Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Thai-Spiced Mushroom Noodle Soup

I feel like I am living in Sleepy Hollow. Does anyone remember Sleepy Hollow, the horror movie? I don't remember anything about it except that the village was perpetually swamped in a dense fog in that movie (oh yeah, and some headless guy was riding around in the swirling mist).

Well, St. Louis has been enveloped in a dense fog for days now, and in the middle of the sickly weather, V has a nasty cold of the sneezing, sniffling, hacking variety. Where cutting edge medical science can do nothing about the rhinovirus, the old-fashioned route of "food as medicine" often works, and we have been eating lots of soups and soupy khichdi lately.

Last night, I made up this soup as I went along and we were very pleased with the results, so I decided to write up a quick recipe here. With flavors borrowed from Thai cuisine, this pot of soup goes to the soup-and-salad challenge No Croutons Required where the theme for January is Thai cuisine.

The aromatic, soothing ingredient here is lemongrass; I have a pot growing at home that I bought from Bowood Farms last summer. A whiff of the sweet, citrusy aroma of lemongrass pierces though clogged sinuses and makes one go ahhh....

Thai-Spiced Mushroom Noodle Soup

1. In a soup pot, heat 2 tsp. oil and saute until slightly browned:
2 bunches green onions (white parts only)
1 10 oz. box of cremini mushrooms, sliced thinly
2 small carrots, cut in small dice

2. Add 3-4 cups mushroom stock/vegetable stock/water and a tsp. or so of minced lemongrass (this post has great tips on working with lemongrass) . Bring to a boil.

3. Stir in a heaped tsp. of Thai red curry paste (or more or less to taste), 1 tsp. sugar and some soy sauce if the soup requires salt (taste first). Add a handful of dry (uncooked) udon noodles.

4. Let the soup simmer for 10 minutes or so, until the noodles are tender.

5. Turn off the heat and garnish the soup with the green parts of the green onions, cilantro and lime juice to taste.

This is such a slurpable soup! The noodles plump up with all the aromatic flavors, and add some heft to the broth.

See you in a few...

Monday, January 18, 2010

Crispy Dosa

The perfect antidote to dreary foggy winter days? A classic South Indian brunch of dosa slathered with potato masala and dunked into eggplant sambar.

I had my eye on Shilpa's butter dosa recipe for some time. The story of the crowded restaurant that served these dosas was so vivid, and the batter is very interesting in the way it uses wheat flour and rice flour in addition to rice and urad dal.

I made the batter exactly in the proportions described in the recipe (using sona masuri rice instead of dosa rice), and now my biggest mixing bowl is taking up half my fridge and holding enough dosa batter for the next 10 breakfasts! Not that I am complaining, but for a small family, the recipe could be easily halved. Placed in a warm oven overnight, the batter rose beautifully.

Here's how I make my potato masala. Have you noticed how vegetables taste different based on how you cut them? I like using thickly sliced onions in my potato masala, and lots of them, for a high onion:potato ratio.

1. Heat 2 tsp. oil and temper it with
1 tsp. mustard seeds
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1 tsp. chana dal
1 tsp. urad dal
pinch of asafoetida
1 sprig fresh curry leaves

2. Add 2 medium-large onions, cut in half and sliced thickly. Cook until translucent.

3. Add salt, turmeric, minced green chilli and a small dab of ginger garlic paste.

4. Add 3 medium boiled potatoes cut in small dice.

5. Stir around, cover and cook for 5-10 minutes.

6. Garnish with lots of cilantro.

The final ingredient for making proper dosa is the cast iron pan. I know a lot of people like using non-stick pans for dosas. Non-stick pots and pans do play a small role in my kitchen, but my dosa-making was revolutionized when I bought my heavy cast iron tawa. In the US, these are sold as cast iron griddles and are quite inexpensive and built to last a lifetime. They heats to a high temperature and distributes heat evenly helps to make beautiful crisp dosas (I also use them for rotis, parathas and thalipeeth). I wash the pan only with water and a little salt if required, and over time, it is more of a non-stick quality than any non-stick pan I have ever used.

And just as we finished eating this brunch, the sun came out of hiding. Dosa always leads to good things.

I got a sweet "Kreativ Blogger" award from Ruchikacooks. Thank you! So here goes, 7 random things I am reading/watching/doing.

1. I read a wonderful book last week- Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Sitting down to a meal no longer feels like a simple act, with issues of food safety, food politics, the environment and the consequences of our choices weighing heavily on our minds. I am struggling to work these complex issues in my head, as are so many of my blogger friends. There are many books written on these subjects, and I confess that the complexity of the issues sometimes makes me so weary and vaguely guilty that I avoid reading the books for as long as I can. And that's why this particular book, where Kingsolver writes about her family's year-long experiment with eating local, was on my "I don't want to read it so much as I want to have read it" list ever since it came out. Last week, I finally checked it out the library, only because it was the book of the month in an online reading group that I participate in. Well, I started to read it, could not put it down, and finished it in a day and a half! Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is written with such gentleness and humor, I would highly recommend it to everyone who wants to enjoy a great read while also becoming better informed.

2. A book that I am savoring in small bites, one chapter at a time, is Eating India by Chitrita Banerji. Thank you for the superb gift, Bong Mom. The book has essays on trips to different parts of India and tales of the cuisines the author encounters. The essays are transporting me to different lands and are a joy to read for anyone who loved Indian regional food.

3. On a whim, I decided that one of my reading goals for 2010 would be to read all the Pulitzer prize fiction winners from 1979-2009. We talked about 2010 resolutions at a work meeting; everyone's goals were to eat healthy and exercise while mine was to read more novels! The one I'll start next is March by Geraldine Brooks. I loved Louisa May Alcott's Little Women as a kid, and this novel is the story as imagined from their father's eyes.

4. I'm also doing some lighter "comfort food" reading with At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon. Does anyone know of other books that are light and uplifting, like the Number One Ladies' Detective Agency series?

5. V and I enjoy watching British mysteries on DVD. Right now, we are watching the Inspector Morse series (although I prefer his successor, Inspector Lewis myself) and the Rosemary and Thyme series, where the two gardeners Rosemary Boxer and Laura Thyme work in lush gardens that make my eyes swim and solve murders while they are at it.

6. My super-talented sister made my day by mailing me a huge package full of cute things she sewed herself. I got a custom-made knitting bag so I can tote my UFOs (unfinished objects) around town in style, another cute bag, a belt and an apron. Dale got this personalized scarf in tiger print! Whee, I love getting presents, and handmade ones are priceless.

7. Instead of directly donating money for Haiti relief, I did something that was more fun for me. I knitted a baby hat and donated it to an Etsy shop to be sold, with all proceeds going to Doctors Without Borders. Some kind person bought my wee tomato hat for 20 bucks!

If you want to buy something handmade for Haiti relief, please visit the Craft Hope Etsy shop (keep checking frequently, because cute items are added all the time and sold literally in minutes). If you are a crafter and want to donate an item you made, visit this page for details. I'll be making more items for the shop as well, as I get time.

Have a wonderful week, everyone! And if you made it to the end of this ridiculously long post, congratulations.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Sweet Comforts and Candied Treats

Last weekend, I made two desserts that are both extremely popular and simple to make, but that I had somehow never got around to making before.

It started with a conversation with a friend last month when the subject of Indian restaurant buffets came up and she confessed that she was in love with Indian-style rice pudding; enough to go back for second and third helpings whenever she found rice kheer served in the buffet line-up. When this friend made dinner for us this Sunday (a delicious meal where the centerpiece was tangy-spicy vegetarian Filipino adobo), I remembered the conversation and put together a big bowl of kheer to take over to her.


Kheer, soft and milky as baby food, comforting and sweet, is one of those desserts that features in a majority of Indian cuisines, often as the official dessert of festive occasions or a quick celebratory sweet to celebrate a birthday or a good report card.

The kheer I grew up eating and have made dozens of times is the one with seviyan/vermicelli, as in this recipe I have posted before. This was a good excuse to try something different and make some creamy kheer with rice instead of vermicelli. This is a quick stove-top dessert made with pantry ingredients.

I used the simple and straightforward recipe from Enjoy Indian Food as my guide (thank you, Meera!) and here's how I made the rice kheer. This made 4 servings (large rice kheer-fan portions, plus a tiny bit left over for a treat for my friend the next day).


1. Grease a heavy pot with a few drops of oil.

2. Add
4 cups 2% milk
13 cup Basmati rice (rinsed well and drained).
Bring to a boil, then simmer, stirring often until the rice is almost cooked through.

3. Add
12 heaped cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
a hefty pinch of saffron
1 tsp. cardamom powder

4. Cook for 10 min on medium-low heat, stirring often. Turn off the heat and let the mixture cool down.

5. Stir in 2 tsp. rose water. Garnish with toasted pistachios. Chill and serve.

Ever since I bought a bottle of rose water a few weeks ago, I am in love with it! In this case, it added a wonderful exotic aroma to the dessert. The rice kheer was simply divine. We enjoyed every single spoonful.

I am sending this to this month's Sugar High Friday- the 61st edition has the theme of Sweet Comforts, hosted at A Merrier World.

Here's another quick and simple dessert I made last weekend to take to a trivia game and share with my team- strawberries in a dark chocolate shell. I rarely buy strawberries, least of all in the middle of winter, but bought these when I had guests expected for a brunch that never materialized because of the kitchen repair woes (yes, it is all fixed now and life is back to normal).


I used a bar of dark chocolate, melted it in a deep bowl in the microwave in 30 second increments, stirring to melt the chocolate without scorching it. Then I dipped the strawberries (that had been washed and dried thoroughly beforehand) and placed them on parchment and then in the fridge for the chocolate shell to form. Because I was worried about the sweetness, I sprinkled a little granulated sugar on each strawberry. I wanted more chocolate per strawberry so I did not let the excess chocolate drip away, that's why my strawberries are stuck in dark chocolate puddles.


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As we go on with our normal lives, life in Haiti has been turned upside down by a devastating earthquake. Let's share a little and give what we can to help the rescue efforts. Click on the link to Doctors Without Borders on the right sidebar.