Fighting Palate Fatigue
It’s that time of year, when a high level of fatigue seems par for the course. With the holidays behind us and very few big events to look forward to, mid January usually marks the beginning of a personal hibernation of sorts, one that usually lasts until the start of March, when green things return to the market in earnest and the sun shines at least a few days of the week.
I find that at this time of the year I also suffer from palate fatigue, the result of too many Christmas standing rib roasts with Yorkshire pudding, too many fancy cheeses and chocolates. I eat it all, then come to my senses around the start of the New Year—not owing to some diet, mind you, but just a sudden craving for vegetables, for ginger and cilantro and spiced, spicy food.
This weekend, carrying things to their natural extreme, I cooked an Indian feast for six, with the inimitable book, Mangoes and Curry Leaves, as my guide. I went a little crazy, actually, producing a crazy quantity of potato curry, stewed cauliflower, mung bean dal, banana chutney, lamb meatballs in tamarind sauce and rice with curry leaves and cashews. It was the latter that really caused me trouble.
While many of the ingredients for Indian food are available at the farmers’ market or in your spice cupboard (though I
must admit, the Alemany market was sad this week, owing to the time of year and this weird winter weather), I had to go on a hunt for curry leaves, finally finding them in incense-choked Bombay Bazaar on 16th and Valencia. Curry as we know it is a blend of spices (“curry powder”) but also a whole genre of spiced dishes from the subcontinent. Curry leaves aren’t the leaves of the curry plant (there is no such thing) but rather, according to noted cookbook authors Naomi Duguid and Jeffrey Alfond, “the leaves of a perennial bushy shrub, Murraya koenigii, native to southern India, these are an aromatic herb that is tossed into hot oil at the start of cooking, perfuming the air…”
I can vouch for that last bit—they shiny green leaves (pictured above) have a toasty, nutty aroma that is only enhanced by frying. I probably could have omitted them from the recipe, but having them there made the whole dish complete. I have a lifetime supply now, but they keep well wrapped tightly in the freezer, awaiting the next bout of palate fatigue.