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REAL COOKS

The Art of Spicing

June 11, 1997|MARGARET SHERIDAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

On this day, he arrives in the living room of their home with his contribution to the cocktail hour, gin and tonic, as she arrives with hers, a platter of crisp samosas, fried pastries filled with ground lamb and flavored with fresh mint, a recipe from her sister.

"My sister made hundreds for our wedding reception in 1959. They melted in the mouth," Penry says.

Although she attended college in South Africa, the racial quota for women was filled when she was ready for graduate school, so she joined her sister in Edinburgh, Scotland, for medical school.

After she and Benjamin married, they opened a medical practice in the southeastern English county of Kent. But Great Britain's socialized medicine, with its demands on doctors' caseloads, eventually drove them overseas.

By the time he accepted a position in Hamilton, Ontario, she was pregnant with their daughter Vanora. Getting certified to work in North America as an anesthesiologist required more time than she was willing to give, so she switched to interior design.

After 12 years in Canada, they chose to retire in 1979 in California because of the climate and lifestyle.

Their daughter, an electronics engineer in Portland, is helping Penry with her cookbook. Vanora learned to cook by watching her mother.

"The man she eventually married she brought home early in the courtship for one of my curry dinners," Penry says. "She and I joke, was it my curry or her that he went for?"

Tasting Penry's wonderful cooking, it's clear that the curry certainly didn't hurt.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

KITCHEN TIP

Garam masala is the spice blend usually associated with north Indian cooking. A masala can be a blend of two or three--or a dozen--spices and herbs. Some masalas, based on pepper and cloves, can be fiery; others, made with mace, cinnamon and cardamom, are aromatic.

If a recipe calls for garam masala, be careful. It should be added in the final stage of cooking. Overcooking will cause a bitter taste.

ONION AND WATERCRESS FRITTERS (BHAJIAS) (LESS THAN 30 MINUTES)

People in India call these pakoras or bhajias. Penry says that because of the assertive spice mixture, a dipping sauce isn't necessary. Grated zucchini and potato can be substituted for the watercress, but do not salt the zucchini. Watercress produces a light, lacy texture, but the recipe with potato and zucchini will be heavier, more solid. Gram flour (made from chickpeas and found in Indian grocery stores) is critical for lightness. Do not substitute regular flour.

1 cup gram (chickpea) flour

1 tablespoon cornstarch

2 teaspoons chili powder or more to taste

1 1/2 teaspoons crushed cumin seeds

1 1/2 teaspoons crushed coriander seeds

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 bunch watercress, coarsely chopped

1 large onion, thinly sliced

2 to 3 green onions, sliced

Water

Oil

Combine gram flour, cornstarch, chili powder, cumin and coriander seeds, baking powder and salt until evenly distributed.

Add watercress and both onions to dry mixture and toss well to coat greens with spices. (Note: Be certain watercress is dry before using, preferably spun dry in salad spinner.) Add enough water (about 1 1/4 cups) to form thick batter.

Pour oil about 1-inch deep into large skillet and heat to 375 degrees (or when cube of bread added to oil sizzles). Drop batter in heaping teaspoons into oil and fry each side until bhajias turns brown and crisp. As batter hits hot oil, it should take on irregular, lacy look.

Drain bhajias on paper towels. Serve warm.

(Note: Bhajias can be prepared ahead and frozen in layers. To reheat, broil until crisp, turn off oven and let sit until ready to serve.)

4 dozen fritters. Each fritter:

27 calories; 61 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 1 gram fat; 3 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram protein; 0.24 gram fiber.

SAMOSAS

Preparation of the pastry for these meat-filled pastry appetizers is time-consuming; won ton wrappers or packaged turnover dough may be substituted. Unlike many recipes for filling, this one, from Penry's sister, does not call for potatoes. The ginger, garlic and jalapen~o for the filling are pounded with a mortar and pestle. Use a little of the 1/2 teaspoon of salt called for in the recipe to help smooth the ginger and garlic into a rough paste.

KIMA FILLING

1 clove garlic

1 slice (about size of quarter) ginger root

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 jalapen~o, pounded to puree, or 1/2 teaspoon chili powder, optional

1/2 pound ground lamb

1 teaspoon oil

1/2 large onion, finely chopped

1/2 tablespoon butter

1/2 green onion, finely chopped

1 tablespoon mint leaves, finely chopped

1/2 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon garam masala

PASTRY

1/4 cup milk

1/4 cup water

1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste

Butter

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Flour

Oil

KIMA FILLING

Pound garlic, ginger and salt to rough paste with mortar and pestle. Add jalapen~o and pound into paste.

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