Friday, September 28, 2007

On a Blogging Break

One Hot Stove is going to be resting for a few days as I take a blogging break. Meanwhile, if anyone is interested, here is my September article for The Daily Tiffin: Little Shutterbugs.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

One Microwave Oven, Three Vegetables

This post is being sent to Srivalli for her Microwave Easy Cooking event. The theme this month is Basics.

My favorite way to use the microwave oven for a basic cooking step: I use it for cooking vegetables in a jiffy. IMHO, the microwave oven cooks vegetables in a jiffy, saving much time and fuel in the bargain, and results in vegetables that are cooked to just the right tenderness, with a lot of the flavor, color and nutrition preserved. Here are three vegetables that I often cook in the microwave oven, with an easy recipe for each.

Note: The power of different microwave ovens varies wildly, and the power of a microwave oven reduces significantly as it ages. Mine is a relatively new one, and cooks food in very little time. The only thing to do is play with your microwave and standardize cooking times for yourself.

First up, emerald-green broccoli: I know, I know, none of the cool kids like broccoli. I happen to love it, but V, who is astonishingly non-fussy otherwise, makes it a point to wrinkle his nose at broccoli. But he does love Broccoli-Cheese soup. Here is a simple recipe for this delicious soup; I start by cooking the broccoli in the microwave oven. The soup gets made as usual on the stove-top, but with the cooked broccoli, it gets made in minutes.

Broccoli Cheese Soup

1. Wash a bunch of broccoli and cut it into florets (2-3 cups in all). Sprinkle with 1 T water.


2. Microwave the broccoli for 2-3 minutes, until tender. Set aside.


3. The rest of the recipe is made on the stove-top. To make the soup, heat 1 T butter in a saucepan. Saute 1/2 C chopped onion and 2 cloves minced garlic in the butter until fragrant.
4. Stir in 1 T flour and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add 3/4 C milk and stir to make a sauce.
5. Now add the cooked broccoli and 2 C water. Bring to a boil. Turn off the heat.
6. Stir in 1 C loosely packed cheese (I tend to use cheddar or Monterey Jack), salt to taste (remember cheese is salty, so go easy), pepper and red pepper flakes (optional). Blend the soup using a blender/ food processor/ immersion blender. Reheat before serving.


The humble potato: Sometimes, especially by the end of the work-week, I am almost out of vegetables but tend to have some potatoes handy. This is a side-dish that goes well with any Indian meal, or also as an off-beat accompaniment to sandwiches.

Dahi Batata (Potato in Yogurt)

1. To cook potatoes in the microwave, I simply wash them, prick each potato 3-4 times with a fork, then place it on the microwave turntable and cook for 2 minutes. Then it turn it over and cook it for 2 more minutes. In my microwave, this results in tender, delicious, non-soggy potatoes every single time (Microwave-cooked potatoes are ideal for potato parathas because they you are sure the parathas won't turn out soggy).


2. To make this easy side-dish, dahi batata, peel the potato (or don't) and cut into medium cubes.
3. In a bowl, whip together some yogurt, salt, red chilli powder and cumin-coriander powder. Stir in the potato cubes. Garnish with cilantro if desired.


The gorgeous sweet potato: I am always looking for new ways to cook this delicious and nutritious vegetable. Tarla Dalal's "Chaat" cookbook has a chaat involving sweet potatoes. That recipe involves several chutneys and a long list of ingredients, and looks nothing like this, but it inspired me to make this easy and tasty side dish/ snack. I used whole baby sweet potatoes here, but one could use the big ones and simply slice them.

Ratala "Chaat"


1. Prick 6 baby potatoes/ 1-2 medium sweet potatoes with a fork 2-3 times each. Place on a microwave-safe plate and microwave for 2 minutes on each side, or until knife-tender (time will depend on the size of the sweet potato, as well as the number being cooked at once).
2. Split the sweet potatoes open, then sprinkle with salt, red chilli powder, chaat masala, and a few drops of fresh lemon juice. Serve warm or at room temperature. Peel and eat!

The next use of the microwave oven: Roasting Papad. A few types of papads can be roasted, but most require deep-frying. Here are two that I regularly microwave for a delicious crunchy accompaniment to dal-rice suppers. I microwave papads one at a time, directly on the microwave turntable (I tried placing the papads on a plate, but they seem to roast unevenly and take much longer). After each one, I wipe down the droplets of condensation from the turnable, which ensures that the next papad does not stick on.

Lijjat papad, which are made with urad dal and are available in lots of flavors- garlic, cumin, black pepper- need about 25 seconds of nuking in my microwave to go from this...


to this...


This one is a traditional Tamilian appalam, one of my very favorite papads. It take about 35 seconds to go from this...


to this...


Other ways I use my microwave oven: to boil water quickly for single servings of tea, or when I need a small amount of hot water for, say, soaking tamarind to make tamarind pulp. I toast nuts and spices in the microwave, which works beautifully, but needs a close watch to prevent them from burning.

Here is another use of my microwave: to disinfect kitchen sponges: I regularly get the sponges sopping wet, then microwave them for 1-2 minutes on HIGH. The heating of the wet sponge kills off a lot of the bacteria that kitchen sponges invariably collect. While it is effective, this technique can pose a fire hazard so consider yourself warned! Once microwaved, the sponge will be very hot, so let it cool down before removing it from the microwave, or handle with tongs.

Got any clever microwave tips? Leave a comment if you would like to share them. I'll be back on the weekend!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Sunday Supper: Pizza Night

I have been blogging about food for well over two years, and pizza has yet to make an appearance here. How on earth did this happen? Perhaps I was intimidated by all the wonderful pizzas already out there on the food blogs. In any case, this is a lapse that I am about to fix today. This is also a reader-request recipe: Sharvari requested a pizza recipe in a comment on this post, and many many weeks later, here it is.

Pizza has certainly been a favorite food of mine for many years. I have been digging into pizza from a very early age, long before pizza chains descended on Indian cities, long before I moved to graduate school in NYC, where pizza is not just food, it is a food group. All credit for the early pizza nights goes to my ever-creative mother. Living in a relatively small town with ultra-conservative food tastes never deterred her in the least. In the years of growing up in Kolhapur, I attended perhaps a couple hundred different social events, but they all had exactly the *same* menu- Kolhapuri tambda rassa (red mutton curry), pandhra rassa (white mutton stew), dry-fried mutton, dahi kanda (onion-yogurt relish), thick chapatis and jeera (cumin) rice; gulab jamuns for dessert. I kid you not. If you served anything else, there was the danger of armed revolt. In the midst of this rather bleak culinary landscape, my mother served baked vegetables and baked corn at her dinner parties, and jelly-custard (Brown and Polson brand, anyone remember that one?), set in pretty little bowls for dessert. She procured macaroni and spaghetti and cooked the pasta in a tomato-Amul cheese sauce (a recipe that started with my grandmother, believe it or must be in the genes. I can only hope). She made sweet corn soup and stir-fried noodles long before "Indian-Chinese" cuisine came into vogue. She hosted burger nights, with mincemeat burgers tucked into pav-bhaji buns, garnished with cabbage and carrot shreds. And she made pizza. We enjoyed Maharashtrian food and other Indian cuisines as much as anyone else, but we also got a chance to try something new every so often.

Aai's pizza started off as "bread pizza" with the sauce spread on regular sliced bread and sprinkled with Amul cheese. Later, as an enterprising local store-owner started to carry a more extensive inventory, she would buy pizza bases, small 6-inch discs of par-baked bread. No matter what, the pizza would always be pan-baked on the stove to a crispy and golden finish, because my parents only had one tiny electric oven and it was stored away to be used strictly for birthday cakes.

Coming back to pizza. For the home cook, a pizza base represents a blank canvas on which to experiment with an assortment of sauces, a potpourri of toppings and wild combinations of sauces and toppings. Our other favorites sauce, apart from the tomato sauce that follows, is classis basil pesto. I have a long list of pizzas on the to-make list as well- caramelized onion and sage, and one that I ate in a wonderful pizzeria in NYC- ricotta, paper-thin slices of potato and walnuts, all drizzled with fragrant olive oil. But the humble and messy tomato sauce that follows remains the firm favorite in our home.

Aai's Pizza Sauce


1 medium onion, chopped fine
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 large bell pepper (green/red/yellow), chopped fine
2 cups tomato puree (fresh or canned)
1 T extra-virgin olive oil
1 t red chilli powder (or to taste)
1 T ketchup or 1 t sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Heat the oil in a saucepan.
2. Saute the garlic and onion until fragrant and transluscent (not browned).
3. Stir in the pepper and fry for 3-4 minutes.
4. Add the tomato, chilli powder and sugar. Simmer for 15-25 minutes, uncovered or partially covered, or until the sauce is thick (the time will depend on how watery the tomatoes were to begin with).
5. Season with salt and pepper and let it cool to room temperature. A thick sauce is of utmost importance, IMHO, because a watery sauce will make the crust soggy.

Next comes the dough. Since I have the privilege of living in a home with a full-size oven, and having access to yeast, I make the dough myself. I use a food processor to make the dough but it is by no means necessary. You can make the dough by hand: use a bowl and a wooden spoon for the initial mixing, and then place the dough on a floured surface and knead with your hands. I have used Bittman's recipe for many years with consistently good results. I feel that pizza dough is very forgiving and a good way for newbies to get into baking. It is certainly the first bread that I started baking on a regular basis.

Pizza Dough

(Adapted from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman)
1. Take 1/4 C warm (not hot!) water in a small bowl. Add 1/2 t sugar and 1 t active dry yeast to it. Let it stand for 5-10 minutes or until the yeast become active and the solution starts to froth. (If you use instant or bread machine yeast, this proofing step can be skipped and you can add the yeast directly to step 2.
2. In the food processor bowl fitted with a dough blade, add 2 C plain flour, 1 C whole-wheat flour, 1 t salt and the yeast solution. Pulse to combine.
3. With the motor running, add about 1 C water and 1-2 T olive oil (I use two glugs), until the dough comes together as a slightly sticky, elastic ball (add more water or a little more flour as required to achieve this).
4. Take the dough ball out, knead it on a floured surface for a minute, then place in an oiled bowl. Cover with damp cloth or plastic wrap, and let it rise for 1-2 hours. Left-over pizza dough can be frozen for future use.

Assembling and Baking:
Preheat the oven (with pizza stone inside) to 475 degrees for 20-25 minutes (you want the oven and the stone to get very very hot). A pizza stone is a flat stone/ unglazed ceramic tile that helps in creating a crisp crunchy pizza crust.

As the oven pre-heats, make the pizza base. Sprinkle some cornmeal (coarsely ground corn) or semolina (rava) on a pizza peel (a paddle used to transfer the base onto the hot stone). Divide the dough into two portions for two large pizzas (serving 2-3 each) or into 4-6 portions for individual-sized pizzas. Start stretching the dough on the pizza peel either by hand or using a rolling pin with gentle pressure. Periodically, you may have to let the dough "rest" for a few minutes to let it become more pliable.

Note: If you do not own a pizza stone and pizza peel, you can make the pizza on a regular rectangular or circular baking sheet. Lightly oil the sheet with olive oil. Place dough on the baking sheet and press down as above to make the pizza base.

Spread pizza sauce on the pizza base, leaving the edges unsauced. It is better to go easy with the sauce so that the pizza does not get soggy. I often serve some sauce on the side as a dipping sauce, rather than drowning the pizza with it. Sprinkle with toppings of your choice ad then with bits/ slices of mozzarella. I don't like the dry and rubbery pre-shredded mozzarella from the supermarket and always seek out fresh balls of mozzarella that look like the one here.

For beginner pizza-makers, smaller pizzas are much easier to make and transfer to the pizza stone etc. This time I tried making a larger one and it worked fine, but was more difficult to transfer to and from the oven. We topped half the pizza with onions, red peppers and olives and topped the other half with onions and slices of Morningstar fake "chicken" wings (the latter is a guilty and occasional pleasure for us).

Transfer the pizza from the peel to the pizza stone gently (shaking the peel back and forth gently to release the pizza and slide it onto the stone). If you made the pizza on a baking sheet, simply place the sheet in the oven. Bake for 10-15 mins, or until the crust is crispy and golden, and the cheese is browning and bubbling.

Cut into wedges and dig in! Jars of dried oregano and red pepper flakes can be offered at the table to enhance the pizzeria experience.


Have a great week ahead, everyone!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Wokking Away

< excruciating puns> A few weeks ago, after lots of dilly-dallying and back-and-forthing, I welcomed a new arrival into my kitchen: a shiny new huge carbon steel wok. This momentous decision was no wok in the park! It took a great deal of reading and googling and research to figure out that the wok material that is overwhelmingly preferred by traditional Chinese cooks is carbon steel. This material is ideal for heating to intensely high temperature for searing and stir-frying, but it also means that, unlike the other low-maintenance equipment in my kitchen, the wok is a fussbudget. It requires careful seasoning when you first buy it, and seasoning every time you cook in it. After cooking, you have to wash it gently only in warm water, then heat it to dry it completely, and coat it with a thin film of oil before storing it away. It is like wokking on eggshells to make sure that you keep the rust away. A wok on the wild side, you might say. Well, I can talk the talk, but will I be able to wok the wok? < /excruciating puns>

Bad jokes aside, I *heart* my wok! Since I bought it, we have been cooking so much take-out-style Chinese food. It all started when I wrote about some Sichuan food that I enjoyed in Chicago. Right away, Manisha and Zlamushka both referred me to a wonderful cookbook called Land of Plenty by Fuschia Dunlop. (doesn't she have the most delicious name?)

This is an outstanding cookbook if ever I saw one. Dunlop (who is British) went to the Sichuanese province in China as a student for a few months, fell in love with the cuisine, and went on to become a full-time student in the cooking school there. She learnt how to read, write and speak Chinese, and the cookbook represents recipes that she has personally experienced there. It is an incredible ode to an incredible cuisine.

The dish that I was trying to make was the one I ate in that Sichuan restaurant- Ma Po Tofu. Dunlop translates the name as "Pock-Marked Mother Chen's Bean Curd", named after the person who is said to have created it. Sichuan cooking has a rigorous theoretical basis, it looks like, with 23 flavors and 56 cooking methods. This dish falls under the hot-and-numbing flavor, which tells you a thing or two! I have been cooking almost exclusively with extra-firm tofu or firm tofu, but I think soft tofu is best in this dish. I see soft tofu sold as just "tofu" without any qualifiers in Trader Joe's. The main flavor in this dish comes from Sichuanese chilli bean paste. I was able to find that easily in the international store. It is an addictively tasty paste.

As usual, my version has been adapted from the book. The changes I made to the original recipe are:
1. The recipe calls for 1/2 C oil, I reduce it to 2 T because I'm just not that brave a person.
2. The recipe calls for leeks, with scallions as an alternative. I used scallions. Dunlop specifies that the leeks or scallions should be cut on the bias- in diagonal slices; what Sichuanese cuisine vividly refers to as "horse ear" slices.
3. The original recipe calls for ground beef. I used soy granules, but this can be omitted altogether, she says.
4. For extra flavor, the recipe adds some fermented black beans but I skipped these (they are already present in the paste).
5. Chilli fiends are instructed to add some ground Sichuanese chillies but I did not have these either (anyway, I doubt either V or me can handle that much heat).
6. The final sprinkle on the dish is some ground Sichuan pepper. This is an ingredient that is very similar to (or possibly the same as) tirphal or teppal used in some Konkani or Goan dishes. It has a very distinct "tingly" taste. I skipped this ingredient too. So you see, my version is very watered-down, but it was extremely tasty anyway. When I get a chance to buy all those other ingredients, I look forward to making it the real thing.

Ma Po Dou Fu

(Adapted from Land of Plenty: A Treasury of Authentic Sichuan Cooking by Fuschia Dunlop, serves 2-3)

1 block tofu, cut into cubes
3-4 scallions (green onions/ spring onions), sliced on the bias (at an angle)
2 T peanut oil
1/3 C soy granules (rehydrated TVP or Nutrela granules)
2 T Sichuan chilli-bean paste (or to taste)
1.5 C vegetable stock or water
2 T soy sauce
1 t sugar
1 T cornstarch, dissolved in 1/4 C cold water
1. In a seasoned wok, heat the oil until it is smoking. Add the soy granules and stir for a few seconds. Turn down the heat to medium.
2. Stir in chilli-bean paste and fry for a few more seconds.
3. Add the veg stock or water and let it simmer.
4. Add the tofu cubes and stir gently. Simmer them for 5 minutes.
5. Add the scallions and let them cook for 2-3 minutes.
6. Stir in soy sauce and sugar.
7. Add cornstarch mixture, drizzling it all over the wok, until the sauce thickens and becomes glossy. Only add as much as you need. Check for seasoning and serve right away!

I served the tofu with some stir-fried vegetable noodles for a superb meal.

Raaga commented that I am seem to be in love with soy granules/ TVP these days :) Well, I'm afraid it is a bit of a misrepresentation...this is what happens when you decide to publish a flurry of posts that have been languishing in the drafts for several weeks. With this post, the run of East Asian-inspired dishes comes to an end (for now!) and we will return to the regular programming- with some good old Indian food :D Meanwhile, if you have any favorite wok recipes, I would love to get recommendations!

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A few days ago, Nags challenged us to Show Her Our Cookbooks and reveal our very favorite cookbook.

Many avid cooks amass vast collections of cookbooks. Mine is a very modest one, and a *very* motley collection, at that. It represents all the loving family and friends in my life who go out of their way to spoil me rotten encourage my hobby by gifting me cookbooks or giving me gift cards to bookstores. Here is the first shelf...

And the second one...

I have spoken of my current favorite cookbook many many times, but here it is again, just for the record...

World Vegetarian by Madhur Jaffrey.

5 reasons I love this book:
1. It has hundreds of meatless recipes- a treasury of ideas for anyone who looks forward to a delicious vegetarian dinner every night.
2. The recipes come from all over the world from Brazil to Korea, Trinidad to Vietnam- you can taste the world, one dish at a time.
3. The recipes are home-style, often with names like Cheryl Rathkopf's Sri Lankan White Egg Curry and My sister, Kamal's "Alan ka Saag". They represent the best of home cooking.
4. Every ingredient, say, "Greens" or "Buckwheat" starts with an introduction of the food, its different forms/types and then an array of recipes to use the ingredient. There is such a wealth of information stored in this book. The words carry their own weight, and splashy pictures are restricted to a few pages in the centerfold.
5. All the recipes that I have tried from it have become instant favorites- Lubia Polo, Sri Lankan Mustard Greens and Oriya Mashed Potatoes to name just three.

See you on the weekend!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Sunday Supper: Potstickers

This post is part of the 7 S series: Soup, Salad, Sandwich, Snack, Street food for Sunday Supper. These are light(er) meals for Sunday night; a tasty way to end indulgent weekends and get ready for a new week. A way to use the vegetable goodness brought home on Saturday mornings. A chance to try something a new recipe, a new ingredient or a new cuisine every weekend.

Today we are enjoying my favorite kind of dinner- making a meal out of appetizers. Filling up on snacks. Potstickers are a Chinese take-out favorite here in the US. Basically, these are cute little dumplings plumped up with a tasty filling. They can be steamed or boiled or fried...or pan-fried, and this last one is generally called a potsticker or gyoza.

The new addition to my pantry this week is dumpling wrappers: paper-thin discs of flour that make it a snap to put together home-made dumplings. At least, I was seeking dumpling wrappers. All I could find that day was square wonton wrappers, and decided to go with these instead. Dumpling and wonton wrappers can be found in either the refrigerated or the frozen section in "gourmet" food stores and international markets, and certainly in Chinese grocery stores. They are quickly becoming mainstream enough to be stocked in many regular supermarkets too. Here is my first attempt at making dumplings. Cabbage and other greens are traditional vegetarian dumpling fillings. I used my favorite combination of spinach and mushrooms, and added some soy crumbles (also sold as TVP, i.e., textured vegetable protein, or Nutrela granules) to mimic the minced pork that is filled into meat dumplings.

Spinach-Mushroom Potstickers

Making the filling: In a small pan, heat 1 t peanut oil. Saute 2 minced cloves of garlic, 2 packed C finely chopped fresh spinach (can use frozen) and 5-6 finely chopped mushrooms. Cook, uncovered, so that the mixture does not become watery. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in a big pinch of red pepper flakes (optional) and 1/2 C soy crumbles. Turn off heat, then add 1 drop ginger extract (or add minced ginger along with the garlic), and a few drops of toasted sesame oil.

Filling the filling into the wrappers: With the round dumpling skins, you just fold down the middle to get a half-moon shaped dumpling. With my square wrappers, I tried it two ways: to get triangular dumplings...

...and rectangular ones...

In each case, moisten the edges of the wrapper with some water, place a teaspoonful of filling inside and seal the dumpling by pressing the wet edges together.
Pan-frying the dumpling: This is the "potsticker" bit, resulting in part-fried and part-steamed dumplings. Drizzle 1 T peanut oil all over a wide pan and heat it. Place the dumplings in a single layer in the pan. Fry the dumplings, with the pan uncovered, for a few minutes on one side only, until the underside gets a lovely golden-brown surface. Now, add 2/3 C water to the pan (stand back, it will sizzle!) and cover the pan. The steam created in the pan will steam the dumplings. Once all the water has vaporized, and the dumplings appear cooked and transluscent, remove them from the pan and serve them right away with your favorite dipping sauce (I made this one by mixing soy sauce, honey, ginger, scallions and a few drops of toasted sesame oil).

These potstickers made for a wonderful meal in a Bet You Can't Just Eat One way! Uncooked filled dumplings can be frozen for future use. Just freeze them on a baking sheet so that they do not stick to each other; once they are frozen solid, they can be bagged/ boxed. I still have some wrappers left over and intend to use them either to make wontons (little dumpling purses) for wonton soup, or to make ravioli.

***** ****** *******

Weekend City Blogging

This weekend, we enjoyed the annual Great Forest Park Balloon Race here in St. Louis. Beautiful pleasant temperatures, a blue, blue canopy, colorful balloons dotting the afternoon sky; bathed in sparkling spirits soared! I took these photos from our street.



Friday, September 14, 2007

Breaking Bread with the Bloggers

Every month, Coffee from The Spice Cafe sends us off on a mission called the Monthly Blog Patrol: the idea is to browse our favorite blogs and choose some recipes that make us want to run to the kitchen and try them, and, well, run to the kitchen and *actually* try them, instead of merely drooling all over the keyboard. This month's theme: BREAD from scratch.

There are all kinds of breads that are on my to-do list. This time, I decided to try my hand at making submarine rolls (or baguettes or hoagies, if you prefer), the ones that are delicious with all sorts of sandwich fillings. I always seek out these rolls from good bakeries- the best rolls have a hard crusty shell that cracks as you bite it, revealing a soft and pillowy interior. After all, anyone can turn out fabulous cakes and pastries full of rich ingredients, but it takes a great deal of talent to make a delicious product from just flour, water and yeast. The inspiring recipe came from the blog Coconut and Lime. With just 1.5 cups of flour, it is a small-scale recipe, perfect for pilot experiments.

The most sought-after characteristic of these rolls- the crisp texture of the crust- is achieved by creating a steaming effect in the oven when the rolls start to bake. This can be done either by spritzing the oven interior with a spray bottle filled with water, or by throwing ice cubes on the floor of the oven. I tried both and thought that the ice cube dumping was easier and worked better. I suggest reading the original recipe carefully if you want to try this; I have merely written a short summary here. It takes about 3 hours from the time you start making the dough to the point of getting fresh-baked rolls from the oven.

Sub Rolls

(adapted from Coconut and Lime, makes 4 palm-sized rolls).

1. In a food processor, make a smooth dough with 1.5 cups flour (I used 1:1 all-purpose flour and white whole-wheat flour), 1 t salt, 1.5 t yeast and 0.5 C or so water.
2. Knead the dough for 5 minutes, then let it rise for an hour or so.
3. Gently collapse the dough, divide gently into 4 portions and let them rest for 20-30 minutes.
4. On a cornmeal-sprinkled surface, gently pat each portion of dough into an oblong shape. Cover and let it rise for another hour.
5. Heat the oven (with a pizza stone inside) to 450 degrees F. Place the rolls on the pizza stone, throw 4-5 ice cubes on the oven floor (they will melt and vaporize with a great deal of hissing and sizzling), and close the oven door.
6. After 5 minutes, turn the temperature of the oven down to 400 degrees F, throw 3-4 more ice cubes on the oven floor, and let the rolls bake for 15 more minutes, or until golden brown.

I used the rolls as a base for Barbecue sandwiches, using this recipe from Vegetarian Times.

It was the very first time that I used the meat substitute seitan (wheat gluten) and I thought it was OK, but nothing to write home about. The barbecue sauce was quite flavorful and overall, we enjoyed these sandwiches. The rolls had a superb crust, to my delight, but the inside was a little more dense than I would have liked. All in all, this was a delicious meal.

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Here are a couple more recipes from fellow bloggers that I tried and loved (NOT entries for the event, just ones that I wanted to share here)...

There are all kinds of reasons why I bookmark a recipe, but this following recipe was bookmarked for the simple reason that it has such an irresistable name: Succulent Mountain Mushrooms. I was tempted to make this delicious mushroom curry the minute I read Nabeela's post.

This recipe was a good example of how minor variations in the spice profile can lead to such diversity in the tastes of dishes. This mushroom curry starts off with the most unusual tempering: asafoetida, fenugreek seeds and jet-black nigella seeds (kalonji). This last ingredient is a newcomer to my pantry. The result was completely delicious! The mushrooms are the most succulent and flavorful ever, and if you close your eyes tight, you can pretend that you enjoying the crispness of the Himalayan air, rather than being trapped in a sweltering Mid-Western summer.
P.S.: This recipe comes from a beautiful book called Mangoes and Curry Leaves by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. Part travelogue, part photo-essay, part cookbook- this coffee table-style book is entirely worth a read.

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I happened to mention spaghetti with soy "meatballs" and roasted cauliflower in this post and Roshni left a comment on the post saying that she would like the recipes for these. Well, it took me quite a few weeks to get to it, but here are the methods to make these (too simple to be official "recipes")...
1. Spaghetti with soy "meatballs": This quick yet satisfying dinner uses three pantry staples- whole wheat spaghetti, canned whole tomatoes, and fake "meatballs". I don't use meat substitutes very often, but this last product (usually made of soy protein) is something I do like to keep on hand. There are many brands available, and I normally use the ones from Trader Joe's.

I started by following Karen's recipe for Sunday gravy
(pasta sauce for the rest of us!) to the letter, except that I did not add any soy crumbles. I always imagined that flavorful pasta sauce requires hours of simmering, but luckily, I was wrong :) This one takes 20 minutes and is absolutely delicious. The fennel seeds add incredible flavor, so don't even dream of skipping them! I added thawed soy "meatballs" in the last 5 minutes of simmering. Toss this sauce with cooked whole wheat noodles and sit down to the heartiest meal ever. This is a wonderful meal for a crowd- or for family dinner- don't miss the lovely description of Sunday dinner in Karen's post.

2. Roasted cauliflower: our favorite fall/ winter side dish, a go-to vegetable dish when inspiration fails me. Cauliflower cooked this way is so tasty that I find myself nibbling on it as if it were popcorn. I don't have a picture of this, but will update the post the next time I make this stuff.
(a) Take a medium head of cauliflower. Cut into bite-size florets. Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees F.
(b) Place the florets on a large baking sheet. Drizzle with 2-3 T extra-virgin olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Use our hands to distribute the oil over the florets.
(c) Roast for 25-30 minutes, stirring every 7-8 minutes, or until the florets start browning. By this time, the cauliflower should be tender on the inside (test with the point of a knife). If not, turn the oven off and leave the sheet in there for 5-10 minutes more.
(d) While cauliflower is roasting, mix the following in a bowl: 1/4 C coarsely chopped olives (any kind you like; I usually use Kalamata olives), 1 heaped T capers, red chilli flakes (optional), 2 T fresh lemon juice and 2 T minced parsley.
(e) Stir the olive mixture into the roasted cauliflower and serve.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Sunday Supper: Curry Noodle Soup

This post is part of the 7 S series: Soup, Salad, Sandwich, Snack, Street food for Sunday Supper. These are light(er) meals for Sunday night; a tasty way to end indulgent weekends and get ready for a new week. A way to use the vegetable goodness brought home on Saturday mornings. A chance to try something a new recipe, a new ingredient or a new cuisine every weekend.

As you can see, I can't seem to stay away from my Sunday posting routine, and especially that of a series. So here it is, a new series with a simple and fairly open-ended premise: trying out new one-dish meals. Given that I am now a whole lot busier than I was during the A-Z series earlier this year, I expect that this one is going to be low-maintenance.

The first in the series is a soup from a wonderful new cookbook given to me as a graduation gift by my darling friend Laureen. She has that special knack of giving the most thoughtful and special gifts every single time. The cookbook is called Super Natural Cooking, written by a food blogger- Heidi Swanson of 101 cookbooks and Mighty Foods. In a world where it seems like a new cookbook is launched every minute or so, this is a very special body of work. While it has beautiful splashy pictures, it is completely unlike the usual glossy tomes- there is something very earthy about the colors and the paper that appeals to me. The central theme of this book is that it talks about "five ways to incorporate whole and natural ingredients into your cooking". It suggests specific and do-able ways to build a natural foods pantry, explore a wide variety of grains, cook by color (it is well-known that the darker the vegetable, the higher the level of certain micro-nutrients like anti-oxidants), know your superfoods and use natural sweeteners. Essentially, the books encourages the average home cook to look beyond the food in the supermarket and not be afraid to explore ingredients that may be nutritionally far superior. The Indian kitchen is already home to wonderful ingredients such as jaggery, millet, coconut oil and atta- the arrival of books such as these, touting these very foods, makes it more likely that they will be widely available in the US in the near future. This book is also encouraging me to look beyond ingredients that are familiar to me, and I hope to cook with quinoa, amaranth flour and miso in the coming months. Best of all, the recipes in the book are all vegetarian.

Today, I am making a simple and satisfying noodle soup from Super Natural Cooking. The new ingredient that I discovered via this recipe is udon noodles, a flat, beautifully geometrical wheat noodle that comes from Japanese cuisine and is cooked in a hundred different ways. I found a packet at Whole Foods.

I am slowly starting to discover, learn and love many cuisines from around the world, but Japanese cuisine remains mysterious and a little intimidating. While Japanese ingredients are being used in this recipe, the soup overall is an Asian hodge-podge, with the Japanese noodles and shoyu (a Japanese soy sauce), fragrant Thai curry paste and a complex blend of flavors- sweet, sour, spicy and salty. The soup does not call for vegetables, but I added some fresh green beans to make this a complete meal.

Curry Noodle Soup

(Adapted from Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson, serves 2-3)

4 oz udon noodles
2 T peanut oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, diced
2 t Thai red curry paste
1 C green beans, cut into bite size pieces
1 C tofu cubes
3/4 C coconut milk
2 C water
1 t turmeric powder
2 T shoyu/ soy sauce
1 T sugar
1 T lemon juice
handful of roasted chopped peanuts
slices of scallions/ spring onions
minced cilantro
1. Boil a large pot of water and cook the udon noodles until barely tender (they will get cooked further in the hot soup). Drain them and set aside.
2. Meanwhile, heat the oil and saute onion and garlic until fragrant and starting to brown. Add the red curry paste and stir until aromatic.
3. Stir in green beans and cook until tender.
4. Add tofu, coconut milk, water, turmeric, soy sauce and sugar. Simmer the soup for 10 minutes.
5. Turn off the heat. Add lemon juice and cooked udon noodles.
6. Serve hot, garnished with peanuts, scallions and/or cilantro.

Heidi calls this a "slurp and slop bowl" which describes this noodle soup just perfectly! This steaming bowl is definitely a delicious soup for any season, but with its spicy kick and delicious addictive taste, it could also be called street food...I imagine that such soups are sold by street vendors in many parts of South-East Asia. Next time, I will try cooking the noodles directly in the soup instead of cooking them in another pot. The soup is "soupy" enough that I think this might work. It will save the time and fuel needed to boil a large pot of water, plus the noodles might absorb even more flavor. I loved the silky yet toothsome taste of the udon noodles and look forward to using them in some traditional Japanese ways. Anyone have a favorite recipe with udon noodles?

This big bowl of soup is my entry to the Second Annual Super Soup Challenge over at the blog Running with Tweezers.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Weekend Stuff

Dale staring intently at a cookie, willing it to jump into his mouth...

Dale and I had a little adventure last Sunday. I was taking him down for an early-morning walk at 6.30 am when the elevator sunk a foot below ground-floor level in the shaft and the doors would not open. After 45 minutes of ringing a feeble "alarm" bell, a kind neighbor finally heard us, then called the fire department. They sent THREE fire trucks, complete with blaring sirens (to my utter embarrassment) and we were extracted from the elevator a short while later. Throughout the hour-long wait, Dale sat down patiently, with not a single whine. AND demonstrated superior bladder control, I might add! Anyway, when I related this incident to my parents, my mother had the last word as usual: "I have always thought elevators are nothing but trouble and this incident only proves it". OK, then :D

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A few weeks ago, I got an e-mail from Anjali, the owner of Supreme Spice (a small business dealing in premium spice extracts) asking if I would like to try out some of her products. Now, the concept of using a spice extract instead of the spice itself was a little alien to me and I hesistated, and then finally requested some ginger, cardamom and tea masala extracts, thinking that I could try all of these in my morning cup of tea.

Well, I am *so* glad that I got over my initial hesitation and decided to give these spice extracts a try, because in the last few weeks, I have thoroughly enjoying using them in a dozen different ways. For starters, I am amazed at the potent and "fresh" fragrance of the extracts. Each extract comes in a little bottle with a dropper for convenient use, and is thick and concentrated. 1-2 drops are more than enough to infuse a dish with incredible flavor. Indian-style Tea (chai), of course, is a wonderful way to use these three extracts that I have- I have been drinking ginger tea as a wake-me-up in the morning, cardamom tea as a relaxing after-work treat, and tea with spicy (yes, it is potent and spicy!) tea masala as an accompaniment to a good book on the weekends.

But the other wonderful use of these spice extracts is in baking and cooking. I used the ginger extract in many different ways- including some ice-cold refreshing ginger lemonade (Indian-style nimbu pani with a drop of ginger extract in each glass), gingery dal, and in some Asian-inspired food: ginger-scallion fried rice (to use up some left-over rice), in dipping sauce for Chinese-style dumplings (recipe coming up next week). In each case, I was amazed at the freshness and potency of the ginger flavor.

I used the cardamom extract in banana-cardamom pancakes and in a mango-soymilk smoothie, making it an instant dessert treat. It is excellent for use in drinks, where powdered cardamom may not dissolve and end up giving a gritty texture to the drink. I know I will be using this extract in all my Indian desserts, certainly.

I used some of the tea masala extract in place of vanilla extract in carrot cake (vanilla can get so "vanilla" sometimes, isn't it?) and it gave the cake a subtle exotic "spicy" taste. I am looking forward to using these extracts in other ways. Thank you for letting me try them, Anjali!

My suggestions for other spice extracts: I would love to see lemongrass extract, to add to tea, and to Thai curries and stir-fries. Fresh lemongrass is not very easy to find. Also, curry leaf extract would be wonderful for adding some extra fresh curry leaf flavor to my favorite Southern Indian dishes. For use in desserts and baking, rose extract would be unusual and delicious. The rose extracts on the market smell so "artificial" and I would be delighted to find a pure additive-free rose extract from a trusted source.

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Updated post: For an all-vegetable version of korma, scroll down to the bottom of this post.

I'll be back on Sunday, with a bowl of soup to share. Enjoy your weekend!

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Microwave Sabudana Khichdi

When my parents visited us for a few weeks this summer, my mother cast a critical eye over my undertakings in the kitchen. When I made sabudana khichdi, our favorite Maharashtrian breakfast, the way I normally make it, she pointed out that it is much easier and faster to make this dish in the microwave. You know what, she is right...the biggest challenge with this simple dish is that while cooking, the sabudana (sago pearls) often get too soggy and start clumping together, resulting in an unappetizing mess. We can take advantage of the fact that microwaves work by penetrating through food and heating the water molecules to cook food. Sabudana that is soaked correctly contains enough water that the khichdi cooks efficiently, with a much greater likelihood of perfectly cooked yet well-separated sago pearls. Here it is, sabudana khichdi made ridiculously easy.

I use a glass bowl for all my microwave cooking. While plastic containers may be OK for briefly reheating food in the microwave, I don't use them for actually cooking food in, because high temperatures can cause plastic molecules to leach into the food. I use cheap, sturdy Pyrex glassware that is just perfect for everyday use in the microwave. Microwave times can also vary according to the age and model of the microwave. These worked for me, but may need a little experimentation in other kitchens. This recipes serves 2-3.

Microwave Sabudana Khichdi

1. Soak sabudana (sago pearls) for 3-6 hours. The soaking is a crucial step: I do this by placing 1 cup sabudana in a bowl and just barely covering it with water, then covering it and setting it aside. After soaking, the grains should still feel dry and separate, although they should feel soft and hydrated (a small hard core is OK).

2. To the soaked sabudana, add 2/3 C crushed toasted peanuts, 1 T sugar and 1 t salt (or to taste).

3. In a microwave-safe bowl, combine 1 medium boiled cubed potato, 1 t cumin seeds, 1-2 minced green chillies, 1 T ghee and 1 T oil (can use 1-2 T oil or ghee instead of the oil and ghee combination). Microwave for 1.5 mins, or until the cumin seeds sizzle and you can smell a fragrant "tadka".

4. Stir the soaked sabudana mixture into this bowl.

5. Microwave for 1 minute, let it stand 2 minutes, stir, and microwave for a minute again. The khichdi should be cooked to perfection! The cooked sabudana look transluscent compared to the opaque uncooked ones. If your microwave has lower power or is old, it may take a minute or two more to cook.

6. Garnish with fresh shredded coconut and minced cilantro if desired. Stir in some fresh lemon juice, or serve with some yogurt on the side. A delicious way to start the day (and you never even turned on the stove)!

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Kanchipuram Idli

This is my entry for the monthly Jihva For Ingredients, an event that celebrates all the wonderful natural ingredients that form the backbone of Indian cuisine. JFI is the brainchild of Indira from Mahanandi. This month, JFI is being hosted by Sharmi of Neivedyam. Sharmi has chosen a theme that celebrates a grain that is a staple in Indian cuisine: RICE!

It is impossible to over-state the importance of rice to many of the cuisines of India- in several Indian languages, the word for "rice" (annam) is the same as the word for "food". Plain boiled rice invariably accompanies simple home-style meals. For other times, one can choose from an infinite variety of flavored rice, fried rice and layered rice dishes. The uses of rice hardly end there. There is rice flour which is used to prepare pancakes, sweet and savory snacks, and desserts. There is crunchy featherweight puffed rice (kurmura) which makes its way into tea-time snacks and street foods. Then there is the flattened rice (poha) which is my favorite breakfast ever.

Rice by itself can perform miracles, and it is no less magical in combination with other ingredients. One successful pairing that always yields delicious results is the alliance of rice with urad dal. A batter of these two ingredients, often fermented (using wild yeast) to a frothy mass, is delicious in endless forms- as fluffy steamed idli, crispy melt-in-the-mouth dosa, the sturdier adai, spongy uttapams and adorable little appams or paniyarams (with infinite variations of each dish).

I am particularly enamored by idlis. Many people I know (including a certain someone I live with) grew up eating idlis day in and day out for breakfast, and had endless idlis packed into their lunchboxes, and what with familiarity breeding contempt and all that, they don't like idlis any more. What can I say? More for me!! :D Idlis can be steamed in large batches, are nutritious and low in fat, can be refrigerated or frozen well, and resurrected to steamy perfection in a matter of seconds in the microwave. What's not to love? Plenty, as it turns out. Idlis fall into that category of foods (like bread) that call for only 2-3 ingredients and a simple-sounding recipe, but that can take a lifetime to perfect. Read Ammani's hilarious love-hate idli musings here.

Idli recipes that I have come across are more or less the same- a proportion of 1-3 cups rice to 1 cup urad dal, soaked and ground together into a fine batter, then fermented overnight, poured into molds and steamed to perfection. The rice can be bought pre-ground in the form of idli rava and this is how I have always been making my B- grade idlis. Consistently edible. Nothing to write home about. Resolutely average. Well, I am now ready for A+ idlis and this is the first variation I tried- using regular whole rice instead of the idli rice to see if it makes a difference (not much). I also made flavored idlis instead of plain ones: these are Kanchipuram idlis, containing an irresistable blend of cumin, peppercorns, curry leaves and, not shown in the picture, some ginger and asafoetida. The traditional way to prepare these idlis is to steam them in special cup-shaped molds, but I had to make do with my regular idli steamer. For great traditional recipes for this idli, see posts by Inbavalli and Srivalli.

Kanchipuram Idli

(adapted from Chandra Padmanabhan's Dakshin, yielded 16 medium idlis and 6 medium uttapams)

1. Soak 1.5 C raw rice and 1 C urad dal separately in water for 2-3 hours. Drain off the water and grind each of these to a batter, adding some water only if necessary. Mix the two batters and let the whole thing ferment for 8-24 hours (8 hours is all I needed in this warm weather).
2. Meanwhile, heat 2 t untoasted sesame oil (gingelly oil) in a small pan and add 0.25 t asafoetida, 10-12 whole black peppercorns, 2 t cumin seeds, 1 t minced ginger and 10-15 curry leaves. Saute until spices are fragrant. Grind the mixture together to a coarse powder.
3. Once the batter is fermented, stir in (gently!) 4 T untoasted sesame oil and the spice mixture. Add salt to taste. Make idlis in a steamer.

I served the idlis with some cauliflower sambar:

The rest of the batter was saved onvernight for delicious uttapams the next morning:

These idlis tasted delicious, but I still have a long way to go. My efforts to make a soft melt-in-the-mouth idli shall continue! Two contraints that my idlis are presently faced with are:
1. The use of regular sona masuri rice in place of parboiled rice that is traditionally used to make idli.
2. The use of a food processor to make the batter, instead of a heavy-duty grinder. I suspect that the food processor fails to grind the batter as finely as it ought to be ground.

I don't foresee buying a bulky and expensive grinder any time in the near future, but I will buy some parboiled rice soon. Actually, the only reason why I have not bought parboiled rice yet is that I cannot buy "some" of it; I have to buy it in huge 10 lb sacks because that is the smallest unit that is sold in our international store. This will last me a whole life-time and the next couple as well! But I recently learned that parboiled rice retains a lot of nutrition because of the way it is made, and is nutritionally closer to brown rice than to white rice. I will be buying it soon!

My attempts to buy rosematta rice (Kerala red rice) at this very same international market have been completely futile and a little hilarious. I asked an employee if the store carried rosematta rice and explained that it is a red rice from India. He patiently led me to the Mexican aisle and pointed out a pack of "red beans and rice". I shook my head and tried to ask again. This time, he took me to the Italian aisle and pointed to "risotto rice" and was exasperated when I dejectedly shook my head again. How could I explain that just because "rosematta" and "risotto" have a couple of syllables in common, does not make them substitutes for each other? The store does carry Sri Lankan samba rice labeled as red rice, but this one is sold as a 20 lb sack! Anyway, I know I can buy rosematta rice online, but am not too thrilled with the prospect of paying all those shipping charges for a heavy commodity like rice.

Rice as my comfort food of choice...

Waran Bhaat
Dahi Bhaat

Three typical Marathi rice dishes...

Amti Bhaat
Vaangi Bhaat
Dalimbay Bhaat

Three rice dishes to feed (and please) a crowd...

Vegetable Biryani
Mushroom Pulao
Paneer Pulao

Three dishes exploring rice in other cuisines...

Lubia Polo
"Chinese" Fried Rice

Recent experiments...
Brown Rice

If experienced idli chefs have any magical tricks for making perfect idlis, please please please leave a comment! For an extraordinary array of rice dishes, visit Sharmi's gorgeous round-up.