I own a lot of cookbooks but I am always interested in acquiring and reading new ones. I recently checked out Great Indian Feasts from the library and found a recipe I knew I would love, Lentil fritters with chilli, ginger and curry leaves.
My pantry already contained all of the ingredients except for the curry leaves, which I assumed would be available at one of our many local stores. I started by calling our local coop, the central coop. After being transfered, I was told by a nice woman in produce that they are unable to source it organically so they don't carry it. I hung up and called our neighborhood QFC who didn't have it. Then I called Whole Foods who I knew would stock it. They didn't.
Finally, I called the place that absolutely would have it, Uwajimaya, the enormous Asian grocery store down in the International District. They probably stock 25 different kinds of miso and at least twenty vegetables and fruits that you might have never heard of. They didn't have it. I asked the nice man on the phone where he thought I could get it. He said that there were two other Asian grocery stores in the area, "but honestly, if Uwajimaya doesn't have it, neither do they". He said they tried to stock it but the quality was so bad they halted shipments and were waiting for their distributor to tell them when the quality was up to par again.
At this point I whipped out the internet to find out what I could substitute, but apparently, there isn't anything that you can substitute curry leaves for. Even dried curry leaves, while being the closest substitute, are nothing like the real thing (baby). So I decided that instead of trying to fake it out in an unsatisfying way, that I would use fresh cilantro instead. I loved this recipe, the crispy, slightly spicy, green flecked fritters were delicious with the tangy spicy mango chutney.
Lentil Fritters with Chilli, Ginger and Cilantro
Adapted from Great Indian Feasts
Makes about 20 fritters
10 oz mixed lentils (a mix is great, I used a mix of yellow dal and french lentils)
2 inch piece root ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
5 dried red chillies, stems removed and roughly chopped (keep the seeds in the chopped mix)
1 large red onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1/2 bunch of fresh cilantro leaves, washed and chopped
Wash the lentils and soak them overnight or for at least a couple of hours. Rinse and drain well.
Add the lentils, chillies, ginger, onion and cilantro to a food processor. Sprinkle in a generous portion of salt, around 2 tsp. Run the processor, stopping to scrape down the sides, until everything is blended together and minced, but the texture still remains coarse.
Make small patties out of the mixture, around 1/2 inch thick and 2 inches wide. The size that you choose to make them is flexible depending on how you are going to serve them, so do what works best for your use.
Add enough oil to a pan placed over medium heat so that the fritters will either be completely submerged when you put them in or the oil will come up half way. When the oil is hot, place in as many fritters as will comfortably fit without crowding them, leaving enough room for you to flip them over. Cook for 2 - 3 minutes and turn over. Cook for 2 - 3 more minutes more until they are golden brown and remove from the oil placing on paper towels. Continue cooking the remaining fritters in batches until they are all cooked. Serve with mango chutney (recipe below).
Adapted from the classic 1000 indian recipes
2 mangos, peeled, seeded and chopped into small chunks (1/2 inch in diameter)
1 cup white wine vinegar
1.5 cup sugar
4 green cardamom pods
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
2 inch piece of ginger, peeled and loosely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and loosely chopped
2 tsp salt
In a food processor puree the ginger and garlic with 3 T of the vinegar.
Using a mortar and pestle or spice grinder, ground the cardamom pods, cloves and peppercorns to a paste.
In a large heavy stockpot, mix the sugar and water and bring to a boil. Stir until the sugar has dissolved. Add the rest of the ingredients and lower the heat. Simmer until the sauce has thickened and the mango is soft. Cool and transfer to a container.