I’m always on the lookout for secret ingredients, little culinary gems that can quickly turn simple dishes into something special and new. Preserved lemon, discussed in my post here, is one of my favorites, and this is another. Vadouvan is an Indian spice blend with a French accent. It’s roots are in Pondicherry, a former French colony in south India, and it’s widely used today in France, but almost unknown in North America. It isn’t pretty, but it has a beautifully dusky flavor that’s very different from what we think of as “curry.” It’s deeper, subtler and a little smoky, and it brings a sophisticated base note to a wide range of dishes, from seafood to poultry to soups.
It’s simple to make, but it’s also a little work, so it’s a good project for a quiet afternoon when you’re in the mood to putter in the kitchen. Once made, it keeps well in the freezer and it’s used in small quantities, so it can work its magic for months. Over the next few days, I’ll post some of my favorite recipes using Vadouvan, and, of course, I’d love to hear about yours.
Recipe (adapted from Paul Grimes in Gourmet Magazine, September, 2008)
Equipment: food processor, spice grinder or mortar and pestle
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds (For a source for this and other hard-to-find ingredients, see my post here.)
1 tablespoon thinly sliced fresh curry leaves (optional)
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
3/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon hot red-pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 pounds onions, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 pound shallots, halved
12 garlic cloves, peeled
1/4 cup vegetable oil
salt and pepper
1. Preheat over to 350F and place rack in the middle.
2. Pulse onions in 3 batches in a food processor until very coarsely chopped (there may be a few large pieces remaining), and transfer to a bowl. Repeat with shallots, then garlic.
3. Heat oil in a deep 12-inch heavy nonstick skillet over high heat until it shimmers, then sauté onions, shallots, and garlic (stir often) until golden and browned in spots, 25 to 30 minutes.
4. Grind fenugreek seeds in grinder or with mortar and pestle. Add to onion mixture along with the other spices, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper and stir until combined.
5. Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet and spread as thinly and evenly as possible.
6. Bake, stirring occasionally with a skewer or fork to separate the mixture into small pieces, until well browned and barely moist, 1 to 1 1/4 hours.