Wish Winter Away with Spring, Summer, Barbecues!
Ah – March! Comes in like a lion, goes out like a lamb – not! Just yesterday New York was suddenly blanketed in snow even as the floral buds were beginning to bloom in our backyards. Today it’s supposed to be officially spring. So let’s think positive and prepare for a glorious golden season. And if spring is here, glorious summer and the barbecue season can’t be far behind! Hemant Mathur, the noted chef of Tulsi, shows us how to make classic Indian tandoor dishes in the Homdoor, a Made in America tandoor – a truly Indian-American concoction for the home. And surprisingly, this handy griller is made by an artist!
Can You Eat Art?
Can you eat art? Not quite but the American ceramic artist Ron Levy, noted for his large scale ceramic pots, comes close. After all, he is the creator of this tandoor for the home in which thousands of tandoori chicken, kebabas and naans have been made over the last three decades! How did a creative and artistic potter end up making that most prosaic – yet undeniably useful – of items?
“About thirty years ago, I had a show that got some acclaim with an article in the New York Times,” he recalls. “An Indian restaurateur saw the article and asked me if I could make a pot with no bottom and no glaze that was cylindrical about 30” tall and 30” wide at the belly. Of course I agreed because I did have the technical expertise to create this pot. At first, I did not realize that I was making a tandoori oven. I did some research about tandoors and realized that I could improve on the ancient cooking vessel.”
He made some important changes such as heating the clay to 2000 F, which makes the clay sturdier, and a high-tech insulation that is bonded onto the surface of his tandoors. “By heating the clay, I eliminated the need for hair and straw that were mixed into the clay from India to make the tandoor stronger. My process is a lot more sanitary than traditional tandoors.” Three decades later – he’s created thousands of tandoors and is quite well-known in the Indian and Pakistani communities.
Now, for people who’d rather cook tandoori specialties at home, Levy has come up with a residential version of the commercial tandoor, called – what else – the Homdoor!
These are manufactured in Ohio in the good ol’ US of A and bring a fun desi zing to the backyard. Says Levy, “Indian breads such as naan and paratha are fun to cook. Slap the bread onto the side of the clay tandoor, cook it for 90 seconds or so, remove it from the clay oven, brush on some melted ghee, and you have a memorable meal. If friends or family are around while cooking the bread, I guarantee that half of what you make will not make it to the dinner table!”
He points out that the vertical cooking lends itself to fast, low-fat yet exotic tastes. “You can marinate whatever you will be cooking, put it on a skewer, and a world of flavors comes to your home. Some people even wrap veggies and hang them in the tandoor. There is a wonderful cookbook by Ranjit Rai called ‘Tandoor’. He cooks with a lower temperature and has lots of unusual recipes for vegetables and proteins.”
Levy also says that there is no better way to cook fish than in a tandoor, since when you have the temperature around 500 degrees, fish will cook quickly, it gets seared on the outside and remains juicy on the inside: ” Marinate it for an hour in your favorite spices or dressings and you can’t go wrong!”
What do the neighbors think of his Indian oven? “Everyone seems to enjoy the ‘theater’ of the tandoor. Slapping the bread onto the hot clay walls, watching the skewers while they cook, and eating what comes immediately out of the clay oven is all part of the entertainment.”
Chef Hemant Mathur, known for his tandoori wizardry, is a Homdoor user at home and shares some delicious recipes which can be whipped up this Spring and Summer. These can also be done in a tandoor or backyard grill.
8 chops (about 8 to 10 oz pieces), ribs or French cut.
1 tbsp ginger/garlic paste
1 tsp cardamom powder
1 tsp mace (nutmeg flour)
4 green chilies
2 oz chopped ginger
2 oz chopped cilantro
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 ½ cup yogurt or sour cream
½ fl.oz (20 ml) lemon juice
Salt – to taste
Combine marinade ingredients and lamb in large mixing bowl. Thoroughly coat lamb in marinade. Refrigerate for 2 hours before cooking so the meat can absorb the flavors. Heat the Homdoor to above 600˚ F. Skewer the lamb onto the rods leaving about 1-inch space in between pieces. Cook for about 8-10 minutes (medium-rare) or 12 minutes (well done).
Related Article with recipes for grilled chicken, shrimp and vegetables