Feeding those Cravings

The Vietnamese really know how to do it right. For me, that is. My throat would be parched from the incessant humid heat and they would welcome me with a mild jasmine iced tea, always on the house.


Iced tea on arrival

Rejuvenated, I could then focus on the task at hand: ordering a steaming hot meal! In this case, Mì Quảng, a noodle soup from the Central Highlands of Vietnam. According to our driver and guide, it is like Pho but with a lot less water.


Mì Quảng

Definitely a lot less broth but so much more else. On days that my aching throat did not need the brothy goodness of Pho, I longed for Mì Quảng. The best Mì Quảng we had was at a roadside restaurant, a pit stop in a small nondescript town, on the way to Da Lat from Saigon. This particular Mì Quảng with chicken also had thin slices of banana flower, half a boiled chicken egg, shrimp, some pork, basil, mint, scallions, red chile peppers, and a generous sprinkling of crushed peanuts and some shrimp-rice crackers. It was a medley of flavors and textures in a noodle bowl.


rice crackers with pepper and shrimp

There are all types of rice crackers in Vietnam and this roadside restaurant was known for making their own. I was very tempted to buy these rice crackers but I had a finite amount of baggage space and no kitchen to flash-fry them while in Vietnam. So instead, I touched, I smelled, I admired and I took pictures. Bay assured me that they were very like the rice crackers in the Mì Quảng we had just inhaled.


Rice crackers, drying by the roadside

You may think that just because you're ordering a chicken noodle soup, you will get only chicken. Think again. You will most probably also get shrimp, pork, chicken egg—as opposed to quail egg or duck egg, so yes, it does need that clarification when in Vietnam. I am a seafood fiend and I like pork but I could see my mostly vegetarian husband begin to get a glaze in his eyes come meal-time.


Aftermath of a protein-rich meal

I must admit that I was a little bit surprised by the lack of vegetarian options, given the plethora of fresh produce in Viet Nam and a sizable vegetarian Buddhist population. The vegetable soup in the picture above had a healthy sprinkling of minced beef even though there was no mention of it in the menu. Perhaps we did not seek the right kind of restaurants for vegetarian options. Every single meal was rich in protein.


Lemongrass beef at our friend's wedding

Wedding food was mainly seafood, beef, pork and chicken with veggies thrown in mainly to add color to the meal. Each bite was as delicious as the previous and could not be compared to the next.

We are, by default, mostly vegetarian even though we like our chicken, lamb and seafood. We fed those veggie cravings by picking up fruit wherever possible. And Vietnamese yogurt, both plain and flavored.


My last meal in Vietnam, vegetable stir-fry with shrimp

My husband got his veggie fix once he reached India from Viet Nam. Medha and I ate mostly dals and salads when we got home only to realize that we now had protein withdrawal symptoms. We both longed for seafood and, land-locked as we are in Colorado, fresh seafood is always a huge treat. A reminder from my Google Calendar telling me that my LivingSocial deal for Whole Foods was about to expire, sent me running to pick up some delicious ground lamb and littleneck clams.

Ground lamb is only for me, unless it is made into Suvir's lamb kebabs. More for me! Clams are another story. They are mostly for Medha and some for me. They disappear from the pot much before it can be placed on the dining table.

The clams I grew up eating were much smaller than these littleneck clams. Each clam was like a tease, offering just a teeny piece of meat while the shells just piled up by my plate. Littleneck clams are a much better deal!


Littleneck clams

I haven't cooked clams before this as I am always afraid I won't clean them well enough leading to a sandy curry or that I would cook them too long giving rise to rubbery meat. But there's always a first time! This curry is a keeper.

Tisryachi Amti or Clams Curry



Tisryachi amti

  • 2 lbs littleneck clams, scrubbed and cleaned
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped white onion
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
  • 1 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 2 tbsp coriander seeds
  • 2-4 dried red chiles, preferably byadgi
  • a ball of fresh tamarind pulp that sits comfortably in an 1/8 cup
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 2-3 fresh green chiles, sliced along their length
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 1 tsp red chile powder, or more (optional)
  • Salt to taste


Clams, cooked just right

  1. Scrub clams of sand using a small plastic brush. Soak them in cold water for at least half hour. Do not drain the water. Instead, pick the clams out of the water so that any sand that has settled at the bottom is not scooped out with the clams.
  2. Heat 2 tbsp oil in a wide saucepan or kadhai.
  3. Add chopped onions and sweat until golden in color, about 5-7 minutes. Add some salt to hasten this process.
  4. While the onion is cooking down, toast cumin seeds, coriander seeds and dried red chiles on medium to low heat, tossing frequently, until fragrant, about 3-4 minutes.
  5. Cool the toasted mix and grind to a coarse powder in your spice grinder.
  6. Soak the tamarind pulp in about 1/2 cup of warm water and break it down with your hands, removing any pits and hard fibers. Mix the pulp well into the water, squeeze and discard the remaining solids so that you have a smooth paste.
  7. Turn the heat down to medium and add turmeric powder, green chiles and grated ginger to the onions and cook for another 3-4 minutes.
  8. Add ground toasted spice mix and cook for another 2-3 minutes before adding tamarind paste.
  9. Slowly stir in coconut milk so that the spices and aromatics are blended well into the coconut milk. I usually add another half to full can of water at this point, too.
  10. Add salt and red chile powder, if using, and mix well.
  11. Bring to a boil and then lower to a simmer.
  12. Add the cleaned clams while maintaining the simmer and cook for about 7-8 minutes, until they have opened up. Do not overcook. Discard any unopened clams.
  13. Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve over steaming hot rice, with some plain yogurt and mango pickle on the side.


Tisryachi amti with Shilpa's Aayi's kochla nonche on the side

Notes:
  • My clams were rather clean and I did not need to scrub them much. Otherwise refer to this guide for tips.
  • One variation would be to add about 1 tsp of black peppercorn while toasting the spices. I like to add a few grinds of black peppercorn to my curry, too.
  • This is a rather mildly spiced simple curry base that can be used for a fish curry or even crab curry.
  • If you prefer the curry to be thick, don't add water in #9. I like to drown my rice in curry and therefore prefer to add water at this point.
  • Traditionally, freshly grated coconut is ground with spices for the curry but I prefer to cheat with a can of coconut milk. The sweetness of coconut milk does tone down the curry which is why I use a lot more spices than one would otherwise.
  • Avoid light coconut milk and don't use coconut cream for this curry either.

I could drink this curry. And that might be all there is left for me, the curry. Now you know why I like to add more water.

10 comments:

Ameeta said...

Manisha, you read my mind :)))Had some Linguine with Clams over the weekend and Tisryachi Amti has taken over my every thought since. Have eaten it several times but never made it myself. Your recipe could not have come at a better time. Thanks!!

Miri said...

I have only ever had clams at Gazalee in Mumbai and it never fails to please me everytime. I wouldn't know how to start cleaning or cooking them.....the amti looks so delicious!!

I think Indians, however hard core meat eaters they may be, are used to eating meat as one of the dishes in a meal which has lentils, vegetables and carbs galore.
Each time I have come back from a trip abroad, I couldn't wait to eat vegetables - while there are enough salads avaiable in Western countries, I yearn for the local veggies cooked the Indian way - porials, sabzis and curries.

Miri

Desisoccermom said...

Have visited you after such a long time and you managed to awaken a childhood love - tisrya. My first memory is of eating them in Goa, sitting on the floor in our room at Mangeshi, while my aunt took them out of the huge pot of boiling, salted water. I would amuse myself trying to find shapes in the meat and then scooping it out and eating it. 'sigh'.
Maybe my child will love them one day as much as Medha does.

Pelicano said...

I was going to ask you which mango pickle you served it with- and lo and behold: you were one step ahead! ;-)

What do you do with the shells afterward?

Bong Mom said...

I have had clams maybe once or twice and that too in non-Indian dishes.
Didn't sweep me away.

Your gravy though looks so good that I want to eat all of it. I guess I have to make this amti with shrimp some day. Does those tar like tamarind paste that I get not work as a good substitute for the more natural thing you have ?

Have a very Happy Holiday season filled with lots of cheer and food.

notyet100 said...

It's been so long since I had clam,.this curry looks yum,

MyGrahak said...

Wow wow wow. Delicious. Honestly, never heard such a combination. I love experimenting with food and your blog seems to the right place.

Manisha Pandit said...

Ameeta, thank you! And I hope you enjoyed it as much as we did!

Miri, click through to the link on cleaning clams. You need to make sure that you get rid of the sand. That's it! We got our fill of vegetables and then went to town on the protein!

DSM, they let you do this on the temple grounds?! Wow! Now I want to do that! Medha got hooked onto clams and mussels when we made a road trip from NYC through Maine to Nova Scotia. She couldn't get enough of either. Still can't!

Pel, well, of course! The hindi pickle is also delicious with this. Mmmmm!

I compost the shells. Why?


BM, they need to be cooked just right. If overdone, they are rubbery. Not much fun. You can use this same curry for any kind of mild fish (catfish, tilapia) or even shrimp. You could use that awful tamarind concentrate but why don't you just buy a small block of fresh tamarind pulp? The other alternative is to look in Asian stores for tamarind paste. It is almost like fresh homemade paste and doesn't have that nasty after-taste nor the dark color of the concentrate.

notyet100, thanks! Are you 100 yet?

MyGrahak, it's very common coconut curry from the Konkan coast. Traditionally, grated fresh coconut is ground with the spices to makeright the curry but I don't get the kind of coconut and coconut milk is just easier! Let me know what you think, if you try this.

Kristina said...

KEEP
CLAM
&
CURRY
ON

Manisha Pandit said...

Kristina, I love that!