Guys, I know I said I was gonna do a Newsroom snark post, but turns out I don’t have it in me. Sorry.
Prior to making this dish, my exposure to Nepalese food could best be described as, “I ate at Himalayan Yak one time and it was really good. Oh also I ate at Tsampa, which is Tibetan, and Tibet and Nepal are right by each other!” So, you know, about the same as most people who don’t make frequent trips to the Himalayas. Having made this dish, I can now tell you definitively that it is delicious. Whether it is representative of Nepalese food I don’t know, but I have attempted to find out. For you. See how I care?
Wiki tells us that tarkari is a spicy vegetable curry, and while the wiki page for “vegetable tarkari” seems suspect (really? The Nawabs of Uttar Pradesh have made extensive contributions to the family of vegetable tarkaris? I wonder who edited that, Mr. Nawab from Uttar Pradesh behind your computer screen), the page for Nepalese cuisine seems to have its shit together. After perusing it, my best guess regarding the “authenticity” of this dish I made is: meh. I didn’t see any mention of meat-based tarkaris on the wiki page, and the ingredients in the dish were all familiar to me. The recipe comes from a cookbook called Feeding the Dragon, written by a (white) brother and sister who traveled and ate their way through China. They seem pretty legit (clearly more legit than me!), but the Amazon blurb lists Coca-Cola Chicken Wings and Green Tea Shortbread Cookies as some of the highlights of their book. So. Idk.
Whether authentically Nepalese or not, though, this dish is totally ace and lots of fun to make. I enjoyed toasting the mustard seeds before incorporating them into the dish – they vibrate in the pan, how cool is that?! – even though I really have no idea what mustard seeds taste like or what they added to the flavor profile of the dish. I also just generally enjoy dishes with lots of random steps, and this had a few. Plus lots of chopping, allowing me to use the amazing Wusthof knives my partner got me for my birthday (he is a good bro). The end flavor result was pretty interesting! In many ways it resembled my favorite Thai stir fries and noodle dishes, but it lacked the sort of complex sweetness given to those dishes by what I’m 99% sure is fish sauce or fish-based condiments. The flavors are all pretty familiar, but they play together in new ways. Also, I used fresh garlic from the farmer’s market and holy shit I’m in love.
Quick story before we get to Notes & Verdicts: the rice for this recipe was the first pot of rice I’ve ever made in my life. No joke! I like rice well enough but not so much that I’d ever make it myself, and anyway, I ate so much growing up that by the time I went to college and started cooking I sort of never needed to make it again. But this recipe called for it, so I valiantly tried. Pro tip, guys: you cook rice on medium-low. Not on high. Then all the water boils off real fast and the rice is half done. Thanks for saving me, mom.
ALSO. FUCK, FUCK, FUCK PROCESSED FOOD MANUFACTURERS. This recipe calls for chicken broth, and we don’t currently make our own stock at Casa Raftery, so I picked up a thing of Emeril’s organic chicken stock. Know what it contained? Yeast extract. Know what my mom can’t eat? Yeast. Know who I had in mind when I chose this dish? Got it in one. Yeast is a motherfucker, you guys. Food manufacturers sneak that shit in everywhere. My buddy Jordan says it’s a cheap and easy way to kick up the level of umami in your product; I say it’s a cheap and easy way to be a motherfucker. Next time I make this I’m gonna be extra careful about the chicken broth I use =( Luckily we still had some of that sausage dish left over, so mom was able to eat something good.
Notes: First things first: this needs a whole bunch more salt than the recipe calls for. I was in the cooking groove and didn’t notice, but there’s only 1/4 teaspoon of salt called for in the whole thing! I probably used 1/2 a teaspoon of kosher salt, but that wasn’t nearly enough. When I make this again I will make a point of salting the full dish as well as the chicken itself, probably before I leave it to simmer. I left out the cumin because fuck cumin, and I left out the fenugreek seeds because I couldn’t find them, and since Adam left them out too, I wasn’t worried.
Whenever a recipe calls for “chilis” it makes me nervous, since there are so many different kinds and an Asian recipe probably calls them something totally different from what my white people supermarket would call them and bla bla bla precision, I am obsessed with it. Adam’s ingredient list calls for “4 dried red chiles, seeded and minced” – and how you seed a dried chili, I don’t have the first idea – so I decided to go with the Thai bird’s eye chilis that my family currently has in abundance. They added a beautiful deep heat to the dish, much like I found in that chicken dish I made the other week with sriracha.
Verdict: True to Adam’s promise, this feels a little bit fancy but is easy to make and tastes great. I would proudly feed this to guests and intend to feed it to myself many more times. A