December 15, 2007

From Tangy Tart Hot Sweet: A World of Recipes for Every Day by Padma Lakshmi (Weinstein Books, 2007). Copyright 2007 by Padma Lakshmi

Serves 4

The delicate flavor of Cornish game hens makes this a one-of-a-kind dish that is just right for a special occasion. I used to make it for family gatherings where we would all sit around thinking up names Confucius may have used to describe things. This one stuck.

  • 2 tablespoons canola oil

  • 1 teaspoon black mustard seeds

  • 1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds

  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper

  • 1/2 teaspoon asafetida powder

  • 1 navel orange cut in 8 pieces, peeled and seeded

  • 1/4 cup fresh kumquats, halved and seeded

  • 3 cups 1-inch cubes of day-old bread with crusts

  • 1/4 cup coarse sea or rock salt

  • 1 tablespoon anar dana (dried pomegranate seeds; optional)

  • 1 tablespoon finely grated orange peel

  • 2 tablespoons honey

  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

  • 1 teaspoon cayenne

  • 1/2 teaspoon sambar curry powder (or Madras curry powder)

  • 2 Cornish game hens, innards removed

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.

2. In a small wok, heat the canola oil over medium-high heat. Add the mustard seeds. When they start to pop and crackle, add the fenugreek seeds, crushed red pepper, and asafetida powder. After 2 to 3 minutes, add orange and kumquat; stir. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes, stirring.

3. Add cubed bread and just enough salt to taste. Stir-fry the bread and citrus mixture for 4 to 7 more minutes, just until the flavors mix well into a doughy mass. Remove from the heat and stir in the anar dana, if you are using it. Set aside.

4. Place the orange peel, honey, chopped dill, sesame oil, cayenne, and sambar powder in a bowl; stir together vigorously to form a paste. Set aside.

5. Wash the hens, and pat them very dry with paper towels.

6. Rub the skins of the hens very well with sea salt.

7. Stuff the cavity of the hens with the bread mixture and place them in a baking dish. Cook the hens in the preheated oven. After 7 minutes, turn the pan around for even cooking. After 5 more minutes, remove and glaze hens well with the orange peel paste. Bake for an additional 15-20 minutes, basting often. Uncover for the last 5-7 minutes to roast the skins well.

8. Scoop out the stuffing; if necessary to cook out any excess moisture, place it in another baking pan and return it to the oven for a few additional minutes. Meanwhile, place the hens facing each other on a large platter, with the legs facing the edge of the platter.

9. Spoon the stuffing around the birds. Serve hot, and carve tableside.



Padma Lakshmi is an actress, model, writer and host of the television show "Top Chef." She has written two cookbooks: Easy Exotic, which won the International Versailles Prize for Best First Cookbook, and Tangy, Tart, Hot & Sweet.  She has appeared in "30 Rock," "The Ten Commandments," "Sharpe's Challenge," "Mistress of Spices," and modeled for Ralph Lauren, Emmanuel Ungaro, Alberta Ferretti, Versus and Roberto Cavalli.