You'll forgive me for the allusion to that cloying Mira Nair film one state away (I find her flicks more jalebi than masala, though everyone else seems to love her). Anyway, the shoe fits.
It started in Louisiana. My coworker Elaine was vacationing down there when she discovered candied peppers and pepper jellies from The Ole Homestead. When she got back to New York she decided she wanted to order some jellies, but since they had a minimum of six jars per shipment she asked friends and coworkers whether they were interested in any. I'm always game to try something new, and when I looked at the catalog I decided I'd go with the tomato-pepper jelly. When the shipment arrived Elaine refused to accept any money from me. Thank you, Elaine.
So what would tomato-pepper jelly go with? I had no idea how sweet it would be, so I thought it might work on meat. I picked up a steak soft taco from a Chinese tortilla joint and put some of the jelly on it. Too sweet. It still could work with meat, I think, but probably as a glaze, maybe for roast chicken parts, where it would marry with the fat from the chicken skin.
It was a little fruity and a little spicy and fairly sweet, and I tried to think of what it would really go well with. Cornbread, I decided. But before I was able to get any cornbread I tried it on a hunk of baguette. It worked well, but I still had cornbread in mind. Sometimes flavor combinations have a way of coming together in your head.
The cornbread I did ultimately try it with was makki ki roti, the Punjabi griddle-cooked cornbread that is traditionally served with sarson ka saag (spiced mustard greens). The last time I bought some of this dense yellow flatbread, which I like to describe as a cross between a tortilla, an arepa and baked polenta, I had discovered that it makes a great breakfast with jam. I was recently back at Patel Brothers, the amazing Indian supermarket in Queens, and I picked up some more of this cornbread. It's very easy to heat up on a hot, dry pan, since it's already made with corn oil. So one morning I slathered some of the Ole Homestead tomato-pepper jelly on my hot makki ki roti.
I was right. It worked.
A couple of weeks later I was trying to decide what to have for dinner. I had some boil-in-bag tomato rice, a South Indian specialty, made by MTR (Mavalli Tiffin Rooms, a Bangalore institution), also purchased at Patel's. What would go well with it? I wondered. Then I had another Louisiana masala brainstorm: I'll bet it will work wonderfully with andouille. So I bought some Trois Petits Cochons andouille, fried one up, sliced it and served it over the tomato rice. It was brilliant, if I do say so myself, the building blocks, perhaps, of a Tamil jambalaya, a Tam-balaya.
If Cajun-Indian fusion becomes the next hot trend in restaurants, remember, you read it here first.