Friday, June 30, 2006

Jihva for DAL: Mujadarah

Jihva for ingredients

Jihva for ingredients, a brain-child of Indira of Mahanandi is an event that celebrates Indian ingredients. This month's host, Sailaja of Sailu's Food, has come up with the far-ranging theme of DALS or lentils. Indian cuisine is blessed with a surfeit of dals of all types, and they are invaluable to my vegetarian diet.

For this month's jihva, I decided to take a break from all my favorite dal preparations and explore lentils from a different cuisine. Two dishes that came to my mind immediately were (a) Ethiopian Yemisir wat (lentils cooked with aromatic spices and typically served with tangy injera bread). (b) Mid-Eastern Mujadarah, a simple dish of rice, lentils and fried onions. In the end, I went with the latter. Other traditional lentil dishes include the Greek Moussaka (I tried making this once, and quite liked it) and the Italian Pasta e Lenticchie (Pasta and Lentils).

My inspiration for mujadarah came from a post written by Lindy, who writes the lovely blog Toast. Lindy praised mujadarah as a dish that is "much more than the sum of its parts". It uses few ingredients, all of them inexpensive pantry staples, and is downright delicious. How could I not try it? The one modification I used was: instead of using the lentils plain, I sprouted them for this dish, to enhance their nutritive value. The resultant mujadarah is a perfect combination of carbs and protein, a complete one-dish meal. The addition of the fried chocolate-brown onions, with their complex flavors, elevates this simple dish to a whole new level.


(Click here for original recipe. Thanks, Lindy! I owe you!)
1/4 cup olive oil (see note below)
2 large onions, sliced thin
1 cup brown lentils, sprouted
1 cup basmati rice
salt and pepper to taste
minced parsley/cilantro for garnish
1. Heat oil in a frying pan, then fry the onions on *medium heat*, stirring occasionally, till they are dark brown and aromatic (this may take 20-30 minutes).
2. Meanwhile, bring 5 cups of water to a boil, then add rice and lentils and simmer till both are cooked to tenderness.
3. Season lentil-rice mixture generously with salt and pepper. Stir in the browned onions, along with the oil. Leave covered for 15 minutes.
4. Serve hot garnished with parsley/cilantro.

Note: Extra-virgin olive oil tends to break down at lower temperatures than pure olive oil, so for this type of prolonged sauteeing, I prefer using a 1:1 mixture of extra virgin olive oil and pure olive oil, so as to get the flavor of the former and the frying characteristics of the latter. It still smoked a bit, but tasted fine in the end.

The verdict: You have to eat it to believe it! The combination of fragrant onions with the rice and lentils is absolutely heavenly. With gentle seasoning and the lack of other spices, the true flavor of the fried onions comes through. This goes right on my all-time favorites list. It reheats very well and tastes even better the next day.

Serving suggestions: I served mujadarah with Fage Greek yogurt. It would be also be delicious with a refreshing tomato-cucumber-radish salad. I can envision a delicious Mid-Eastern themed picnic spread with mujadarah, salad, pitas and hummus, with maybe some feta cheese to sprinkle on top.

Thanks, Sailu for hosting this event. The round-up of this event is going to be very valuable, with lots of new ideas to use dals in everyday cooking!

Sunday, June 18, 2006

A Profusion of Handcrafted Gifts

This is a non-food the past weeks and months, I have been fortunate enough to be given some beautiful hand-crafted gifts and I really wanted to show them off (and share with everyone how proud I am of the people that made them).

One of the biggest joys of food blogging are the fellow bloggers you meet and become friends with. One wonderful blogger was actually my "mentor" and the person who first encouraged me to start this blog. Cathy and I were lucky enough to meet in person last year, and we met again for a quick breakfast at the City Bakery (Union Square) last Monday. Meeting Cathy was great fun and we chatted away as usual while eating hot oatmeal (Cathy) and a pretzel croissant (me...could our breakfasts have been more healthier and unhealthier, respectively?), and Cathy then gave me this while I stared at her in shock:
Why was I shocked? Believe it or not, it is a beautiful, soft kitchen towel that Cathy has *woven herself*...yes, the whole fabric is hand-crafted from yarn. I was so moved to receive this labor of love! Read more about this towel's creation here and here. Incredible, isn't it? All I'm going to say is: this towel is not going to wiping down any counters in my kitchen...I will be treasuring it!

Another useful-for-the-kitchen gift: My parents' neighbour, a lovely older lady who is an expert knitter, made me this cute little strawberry pot-holder:
It has the cutest pattern and is thick and fluffy! A real sweet treat!

This is a set of personalized bath-and-hand towels, exquisitely embroidered by R, who apart from working as my mom's assistant, is also very talented with her hands and is always sewing away in her spare time.
The delicate floral design is perfect in every detail...I know I will feel special every time I use these towels.

My mom's sister P (a talented artist) first made this set of pillow-cases as a wedding gift for my mom, and now I am lucky enough that she me painted a set too: Playing cards are delicately hand-painted on fabric to make these pillow-cases: The King and Queen of Hearts, personalized with our initials. How cute are they? Here is the King of Hearts:
and the Queen of Hearts:
I keep looking at these...the details of the painting are just astonishing.

Finally, this is something that my mom bought for me from a market in Pune but it was hand-crafted by *someone*! My mom has a talented eye for seeking out really cute and whimsical stuff, like this knitted woolen Marathi thali!
It depicts a full traditional Marathi lunch, served on a banana leaf. From top, anticlock-wise (starting with the really little stuff), this is what I can guess (thanks, aunt Y for helping out with this)
1. Salt
2. Slice of lemon
3. Chutney (typically made with cilantro and coconut)
4. Koshimbir (tomato-cucumber salad)
5. Karanji (very cute and accurate rendition)...fried turnover filled with a sweet coconut-poppy filling
6. Jalebi (fried spiral-shaped sweet dipped in syrup)
7. Modak (steamed dumpling with a sweet filling)
8. Waran-Bhaat (rice with simple yellow dal...looks perfect)
9. Kesari Bhaat (sweet saffron-flavored rice...the light orange one)
10. Masale Bhaat (spicy vegetable pilaf)
11. Alu Bhaji (a dish of sauteed spicy colacassia/taro greens)
12. Batata Bhaji (a dish of seasoned boiled potatoes).
Looks delicious, right?

Hand-crafted gifts are so touching...a true gift of time and talent. I'm off to Seattle to attend a conference so I'll be back by the end of the month! So long!

Friday, June 16, 2006

Books and Food: "Family Matters" by Rohinton Mistry

This article is part of a special series called "Books and Food". I have loved books long before I ever got interested in the culinary arts. Short stories, novels, biographies and travelogues, I love them all. Human life is inextricably linked to food, and books often use descriptions of feasts and famines, dinner rituals and food memories to bring a point across to the reader. In this series, I talk about my favorite books and the food passages therein, and make a dish or a meal inspired by the book

Today's book: Family Matters by Rohinton Mistry
The food: A Parsee meal of Vegetable Dhansak, Brown Rice and Kachumbar

English language books by authors of South Asian descent is one of my particular obsessions, so the first book I have chosen is from this genre. Family Matters by Rohinton Mistry is a story of a middle-class Parsee family in Bombay. The Parsees are a small minority community in India; they practice the Zoroasterian faith, the worship of fire. This small but vibrant community has produced several talented authors, and Rohinton Mistry is my favorite. Mistry has an incredible gift: he has the ability to take the ordinary and make it lyrical. He speaks of the everday business of life and in doing so, paints a vivid picture of life in middle-class Bombay, especially that in a Parsee household.

In the following scene, Roxana, who lives in a tiny apartment with her husband and two boys, has her elderly injured father come to live with her. One of her boys offers to help feed him.
"Jehangir filled the spoon again and raised it to his grandfather's lips. A grain of rice strayed, lingering at the corner of his mouth. Jehangir took the napkin to gently retrieve it before it fell.
And for a brief instant, Roxana felt she understood the meaning of it all, of birth and life and death. My son, she thought, my father, and the food I cooked…A lump came to her throat; she swallowed."

Food and its trappings are often found in this story. One paragraph that really made me laugh (because I identified with it so closely) was when Roxana's boys read story books by the English author End Blyton and dream of the food oft-mentioned in Blyton's books: "Muffins, porridge, kippers, scones, steak and kidney pie, potted meat, dumplings. Their father said if they ever tasted this insipid foreign stuff instead of merely reading about it in those blighted Blyton books, they would realize how amazing was their mother's curry-rice and khichri-saas and pumpkin buryani and dhansak. What they needed was an Indian Blyton, to fascinate them with their own reality"

The Parsee-inspired meal that I served included brown rice pilaf, a vegetable-dal stew called dhansak and a simple salad called kachumbar. The "brown rice" traditionally served in the Parsee meal is white rice which is browned by the addition of caramelized sugar, but I made "real" brown rice, because it is so much healthier, and because it goes perfect with the dhansak. Speaking of which, I tried looking for an authentic dhansak recipe on the internet. A google search yielded this recipe for a pretty non-authentic dhansak. But this webpage has a true treasure: scroll down to the last two lines of this page, and someone has provided a recipe (there is a link to a word document) for vegetarian dhansak. I have simplified and modified the recipe somewhat. The meal was delicious enough to be a special treat, and yet bursting with health, with all those wonderful lentils, whole grains and vegetables, both raw and cooked. The recipe for dhansak sounds tedious, but it is a snap to put together once you have the ingredients at hand.


(1) 1 + 1/2 cups mixed dals (I used toor, masoor, moong, chana and urad; use your favorites in any proportion)
(Soak the dals for a few hours, then cook and set aside; you could use a pressure cooker or the stove-top method)

(2) Vegetables:
Yellow Squash
Tomato (Dice all the veggies for a total of 5-6 cups of mixed veggies)

(3) Tempering:
1 tbsp oil
1 onion, diced
1 tsp ginger-garlic paste

(4) Dhansak Masala: Toast the following together (I throw it in the microwave for 1-2 minutes on low works!)
2 red chillies
1 inch cinnamon
8 black peppercorns
2 dried bay leaves
8 cloves
1 tsp fenugreek (methi) seeds
1 tbsp sesame seeds
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp coriander seeds
Grind roasted spices together. Add 1/2 tsp turmeric powder and 1/2 tsp nutmeg powder. Set masala powder aside.

(5) Herbs/greens:
1 cup packed spinach (fresh or frozen)
1 tbsp dried fenugreek leaves (or 3-4 tbsp fresh, minced)
1 tbsp dried mint leaves (or 2 tbsp fresh, minced)

1. Heat oil, then saute the onion till transluscent. Add the ginger-garlic and fry for a minute.
2. Add the diced veggies and 1/2 cup water, cover and cook till the vegetables are tender.
3. Now add the masala, salt to taste, the herbs and the dals. Cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes.

Brown Rice Pilaf

2 cups brown basmati rice
4 and 1/4 cup water
dash of salt
1 tsp ghee
1 bayleaf
2 tsp whole spices (cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, peppercorns)
1. Heat the ghee and gently saute the bayleaf and whole spices for a few seconds.
2. Add the rice and saute for a few seconds.
3. Add water and salt, cover the pot and cook for 30-40 minutes till the rice is tender and the water is all absorbed.


Mix together diced tomatoes, onions, cucumber and radishes. Season with salt, pepper, a dash of sugar and a dash of vinegar. Sprinkle with some minced cilantro.

Here are links to two other Parsee recipes:
Patrani Macchi: Deccanheffalump gives a wonderful introduction to Parsee cuisine, with a bit of history thrown in, and this fish recipe.
Pateta par Eeda This is a tasty eggs-and-potatoes brunch dish that is a favorite with V and me.

Please let me know how you like this series. Ideas for books that you would like to see featured are welcome too!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Perfumed Garden: Cardamom-Rose Kulfi

This recipe is my entry for the Spice is Right III, a spice-oriented food blogging event hosted by Barbara of Tigers and Strawberries. The theme this time around is "The Perfumed Garden", where the challenge is to combine edible flowers with spices in a recipe. I was thrilled when I learned about the theme, because I just returned from India with a large bag of some Gulkand or Rose Jam. This is nothing but fresh rose petals mixed with sugar and allowed to "cook" under the blazing tropical sun yielding a dark red, thick, gooey rose-scented jam.
I love eating a spoonful of gulkand occasionally as a little pick-me-up; it is also used as a sweet filling in some Indian dessert recipes. This time around, I decided to use it in a kulfi. The pairing of rose and cardamom ends up being subtle and dreamy, a perfect end to a meal. For the kulfi base, I modified this recipe from BBC food. Gulkand is so sweet that the kulfi does not need another sweetener like sugar or condensed milk.

Cardamom-Rose Kulfi

Serves 4-5, Preparation Time: 10 minutes (not including freezing time)
1 12-oz can evaporated milk
1 small carton (half pint) heavy cream
2-3 tbsp gulkand (rose jam) (or more to taste)
2 tbsp milk
1 heaped tsp cornflour
1 tsp cardamom powder
1. Stir in the cornflour into the milk and set aside.
2. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the evaporated milk until it is almost boiling.
3. Add the cornflour-milk mixture and the heavy cream and boil for a minute (to cook the cornflour).
4. Take off the heat, allow it to cool almost to room temperature, then stir in the cardamom and gulkand.
5. Pour into a container and set in the freezer. Mix up the kulfi every 2 hours to break any ice crystals. It should set in 8-10 hours at the most.
6. Serve small scoops of the kulfi with extra gulkand on the side if desired.

I was absolutely thrilled with the result! It was so subtle and aromatic, a real treat for the taste-buds. I know I will be making this recipe again and again (till the precious gulkand lasts, anyway)! Next time, I might tweak the recipe a little bit:
1. A few drops of beet juice might add a lovely rosy hue.
2. A couple of drops of rose essence might add more rose flavor (although I like the subtle taste just as well).
3. I think toasted crushed almonds would work really well in this recipe and add an extra flavor dimension.

If you happen to live in the NYC area, don't forget that June is Rose Month at the New York Botanical Gardens. I was just there last week and the roses are breath-takingly gorgeous! My favorite rose there: "Gourmet Popcorn"

Thanks for hosting, Barbara! I loved participating in this event.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Weekend Herb Blogging: "Shopping Local in Kolhapur" (a photo-essay)

I have been a fan of "Weekend Herb Blogging" ever since Kalyn first came up with the idea, but this is the first time I am participating in this fun event. Many thanks to Cate from Sweetnicks for hosting it this weekend!

This is a photo-essay depicting the vegetable market in my home-town of Kolhapur in the western Indian state of Maharashtra. All pictures have been taken by our Polish friend Lukasz . Lukasz visited India for our wedding and enjoyed capturing glimpses of everyday life in India on his camera. Of course, marketplaces are simply a whirlwind of activity in India and he spent quite a lot of time there. He was a very courteous photographer, always "asking" his subjects (with smiles and mime) if it was OK to take a picture. I thank Lukasz for being so generous and sharing these beautiful pictures and allowing me to present them on One Hot Stove.


An overview of the vegetable market: it is a big open area, covered with some tarpaulin for protection from the beating sun. Inside, vendors sit down in rows with their wonderful produce artistically arranged around them in baskets. All the veggies look so luscious and inviting! I love the concentric arrangement of the eggplants. The market also has a couple of stalls that sell stuff other than produce: Can you spot a colorful stall selling glass bangles in the right background? (Bangles are wrist ornaments and glass bangles are inexpensive, popular accessories: they can be matched to a saree of every color!)

This lemon-seller laughs self-consciously when she is caught in the middle of a tea break. I love the neat arrangement of the lemons, crowned with two colorful chillies for good luck.

These two ladies are selling (left to right) green beans, ridge gourd and baby eggplants. Most of the sellers here are small-scale farmers who come from the outskirts of the city, hauling their fresh vegetables (packed in reusable jute sacks, not cardboard boxes). The taste of these locally-grown veggies in unbelievable. Note the small metal scales behind the eggplants: here the vegetables will be weighed and placed into your bag or basket. No plastic bags, no shrink-wrapped produce here!

This veggie-seller decided to pose with one of the vegetables she was selling. That beautiful, bright and huge cauliflower certainly deserves to be shown off! Selling vegetables is hard work and a business with a very low profit margin and no retirement plan; this lady is still working when she looks like she deserves to retire and get some rest.

Finally, here is a stall where the weary shoppers can buy themselves a little treat. This lady is selling a number of mouth-watering tidbits: (from left to right) slices of raw mango slathered in salt and red chilli powder; a fruit called jamun or chew up the purple flesh, toss away a large seed and are left with a bright purple tongue; next comes young tamarind (still in its pods) I discovered in Feb 2010 that this is actually a different variety of tamarind called vilayati chincha in Marathi and Manila tamarind in English; then gooseberries called amla in Hindi or avla in Marathi; and finally, dried salted slices of the same gooseberries, some are pre-packaged into a cone of newsprint, for convenient munching as you stroll through the market.

Have a great weekend, and eat your veggies :)

Friday, June 09, 2006

An Exact Recipe for a "Chaotic" Dish

I am back after being AWOL for nearly a month! Sometimes, work does get in the way of blogging. Over the past weeks, I have been cooking, maybe not as frequently as usual; instead making big pots of one dish and eating it over a few days. During busy times, there are a few tried-and-tested recipes that I keep going back to. These dishes are always
a) pantry-ingredient based
b) nutritious
c) hearty and comforting, so that they just hit the spot at the end of a long weary day.

A great advantage for a home cook is to have a few easy dinner recipes down pat. Those that you can throw together almost mechanically, without having to consult a recipe or having to rummage through the kitchen for a long list of ingredients. It certainly helps if the dish gets ready in less time than it would take for a bag of greasy take-out to arrive at your door.

One such recipe is "khichdi". A blend of rice and lentils cooked together, it offers both carbs and protein in one nutritious package. Since khichdi is one of those inexact dishes where you can dump in almost anything you can think off, the word "khichdi" in Hindi also colloquially means "chaos".
Chaos is fine, but anyone attempting to make khichdi for the first time might like a recipe, so here is mine, tried and tested. The inspiration for this khichdi is the traditional Gujarati-style khichdi, made from moong beans which have their skins on:
I love the way this lentil cooks with the rice resulting in the perfect consistency. NYC has been so rainy, damp, chilly and miserable in the past few days: this khichdi got made several times, I can tell ya!

Moong Dal Khichdi

Prep. Time: 30 minutes (only 5-10 minutes active time), Serves 2-3
1/2 cup moong dal (the kind shown above, available in Indian stores)
1/2 cup rice
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
2 tbsp minced onion
1 clove garlic, minced
5-6 curry leaves
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp red chilli powder
1 tsp coriander powder
salt to taste
1 tbsp oil
1. Heat oil, then temper with the cumin and mustard seeds.
2. Add onion, garlic, curry leaves and saute for a minute.
3. Add turmeric, red chilli powder, coriander powder and salt and stir for a few seconds.
4. Add the rice, dal and 3 cups water.
5. Bring to a boil, then simmer until everything cooks together as a mushy, delicious mix.

1. This recipe is best done in a pressure cooker, but can certainly also work on the stove-top in a covered pot.
2. If you have veggies on hand, saute a cup of diced veggies (peas, zucchini, cauliflower, carrot work well) between step 2 and 3, and add another 1/2 cup of water in step 4.
3. A great variation is "gili" or wet khichdi, in which you would add another cup of water at step 4, resulting in a slurpy, soupy consistency.
4. Serve with a dollop of ghee and some pickle on the side, if desired. I served this last night with some sauteed red cabbage-and-peas.
I'll see you again in 3-4 days (promise!). Thanks for being patient!