I find I can appease the at-odds impulses by doing something I think is really noble: cooking at home and cooking really well.
My girlfriend, Nelly, and I rarely go out to eat. For one reason, we’re poor. For another, at some point, the pepito mole with homemade tortillas, the raviolis filled with bacon and swiss chard, sauced with brown butter, began tasting as good—and, hey, if I’m honest—usually even better than what we’d get if we could go someplace affordable.
There aren’t any Indian places right around my apartment that I’m very keen on, so when I get the craving for korma, which I not infrequently do, I either just repress it, or pony up the $12 for a white cardboard container of the stuff. It’s usually quite greasy. You can taste the raw cream dumped into the sauce at the last minute for enrichment purposes. It contains what I estimate to be about $0.75 worth of ingredients.
The other night I got hit with a craving. I was about to say, “Screw it,” but then I said something different. “You know, you went to cooking school. You did your externship in an Indian restaurant. Get off your ass and make yourself some korma.”
I opened up a couple of cookbooks so I could get the general idea. I had the requisite spices in my cabinet: a garam masala mix that I’d made for another dish not too long ago (so yeah, some of the pungency was long gone, but nonetheless), cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, and cumin. I had a bag of raw sliced almonds in the freezer. I had ginger, I had garlic, I had an onion. I went to the market and bought two pounds of chicken thighs, a container of yogurt, two plum tomatoes (out of season, I know, but...) and some cream. Once I was back in the kitchen, the rest unfolded over about 25 minutes.
I peeled the tomatoes, diced them, and set them over medium heat with a little oil to cook them into a paste (3 minutes prep, 10 in the pan). While this was going on, I put two or three handfuls of the almonds into a blender with three garlic cloves and a peeled 1-inch piece of ginger (2 minutes prep), along with a quarter cup of water. I blended it smooth. I ground a tablespoon of cumin (1 minute). I diced the onion (a minute and a half).
I heated up some oil in another pan and tossed in eight cardamom buds, four cloves, and a 1-inch piece of cinnamon and waited for them to pop and sizzle (2 minutes). I added the cumin and a tablespoon of garam masala and cooked it until I could really smell it (1 minute). I poured in the almond paste and cooked the water out of it (2 minutes). I added the tomatoes. I poured in a good shot of cream and added a little more than half the yogurt. A little water to make it all stirrable. Then I brought it to a simmer (2 more minutes). I cut the thighs into little chunks and tossed them in the liquid (5 minutes), stirring it all together, and covered the pan, letting the whole mix barely simmer—just an occasional bubble—for about 30 minutes. I had time to drink a beer and watch most of an episode of Sons of Anarchy while it cooked. Upon completion, I let it sit for a few minutes and, in the meantime, made some Trader Joe’s Basmati rice (1 cup of rice to 1.5 cups water), which took about 15 minutes, unattended, allowing me to finish the SOA episode I was engrossed in. About an hour in total, at a cost of maybe 8 bucks. It was really tasty, not greasy, not cloying with the taste of uncooked cream, and I froze at least three meals of leftovers. I felt subversive—take that, shoddy restaurant cooks up the street—and virtuous, which I’m not used to feeling. I was alone that night. I ate dinner in front of the TV—more SOA—and enjoyed myself immensely.