Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Summer Snacking: Baba Ghanouj

Here's a little appetizer that I served to friends at a pre-ballet supper last weekend. "You made this at home, from scratch??", someone asked incredulously. In fact, it is the easiest thing to make from scratch and needs only a handful of ingredients. Baba Ghanouj is a close cousin of our Indian bharta, a nuttier and creamier version of it.

The two "special" ingredients in this dip are the tahini and the aleppo pepper, both foods that I had not even heard of a few years ago but that I have come to love.

I first read of Aleppo pepper on Kalyn's blog and finally bought myself some from Penzey's spices. We are lucky enough to have a retail location for this store in St. Louis. Penzey's is candyland for foodies- every spice you can think of (and several that I'd never heard of) arranged alluringly all over the store. I bought many of their barbecue rubs and Cajun spice mixes to give to relatives in India as "American masalas". Anyway, from the day I bought this Aleppo pepper, I've been looking for excuses to use it. I sprinkle it with abandon on anything and everything-the taste is irresistible. It is a completely optional ingredient in this recipe. If you don't have it on hand, substitute another pepper or just leave it out.

As for the tahini, it is nothing but sesame seed paste. If it is not available where you live, you can make some at home . Tahini can sometimes taste bitter but I found a local Missouri brand (East Wind; I've bought this brand in Golden Grocer and from the bulk bin at Whole Foods) that has a mild and pleasing taste. Tahini is useful to have on hand for creamy dips and salad dressings- I use it often in hummus and yogurt-tahini sauce. Because sesame/tahini plays a starring role in this eggplant dip, I'm sending it to Think Spice: Sesame.

Baba Ghanouj (Eggplant Dip)


1 large eggplant
2 tablespoons tahini
1 clove garlic, minced
Juice of ½ lemon
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (or to taste)
Salt to taste

1. Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees F.
2. Wash and dry the eggplant. Cut it in half lengthwise. Brush all over with olive oil. Place it (cut side down) on a baking sheet and roast for 40 minutes or until the skin is wrinkled and the inside is soft (test with a knife).
3. Place the roasted eggplant halves in a colander and let the excess juices drip away for 30-40 minutes.
4. Peel the eggplant and place the pulp in a food processor. Add all the other ingredients. Pulse the eggplant mixture until it is blended together (some chunks are fine).
5. Taste and adjust the balance of flavors.
6. Garnish with sliced radishes, sprinkle with extra Aleppo pepper and serve with a drizzle of olive oil if desired.

This dip is excellent with pita chips, pita bread or crudites. I've been taking a little jar of it to work; it makes for a tasty and filling mid-morning snack.

Coming up next: A dish that needed 11 hours in the oven to put it together! Stay tuned.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Spice Giveaway: Kolhapuri Masala

In the last few weeks, I have been the lucky recipient of many incredible foodie gifts, and in the spirit of passing it on, I want to offer the readers of One Hot Stove a taste of one of my very favorite spice mixtures.

I brought back some Kolhapuri masala, the authentic stuff from (where else but) Kolhapur, and I have two packets of this spice to share with you.

This Kolhapuri Masala is fiery stuff, made with chillies, onion, garlic and other spices. It is also known as Kolhapuri chutney and is similar to Kanda-Lasun Masala. I use it for misal (see recipes from My FoodCourt and me). It is also widely used for meat curries, which can be easily converted to egg curry or vegetable curry. It is a tasty and versatile masala and adds a punch of flavor to simple subzis and rice dishes as well.


I am willing to ship the Kolhapuri masala to two addresses in the United States. I have to restrict this giveaway to the US to keep shipping costs down and also to avoid customs paperwork- sorry!

To enter the Kolhapuri Masala Giveaway-

  • Leave a comment on this post telling me what your favorite meal is for a hot summer day.

  • Comments will close on Sunday July 5th at 6 AM Central US time.

  • I will randomly choose two winners from those leaving comments and announce them by noon on Sunday July 5th

  • The winners will have a week to send me a US address so that I can mail out the spice.

Thank you for entering the giveaway!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Summer Daze: Earl Grey Iced Tea

Yesterday was just the latest in the string of a dozen days (seems much longer than that) of fevered stifling weather in St. Louis. Two things refreshed me like a cool drink of water on this blazing summer day.

One was a ballet performance that I enjoyed for a few hours (in air-conditioned comfort, thank goodness). The light as air ballet dancers transported me to another world of grace and beauty where everyone is lithe and dexterous and spectacularly skinny.

The other was literally a cool drink. I swapped out my usual hot chai for a pitcher of sweet lemony iced tea.

Normally I will only drink Indian blends of black tea- the usual brands like Taj Mahal and Red Label. A couple of years ago, I tried Earl Grey tea thinking it was simply another term like "afternoon blend" and "breakfast blend" and was really taken aback by the unmistakable flavor of this distinctive tea. The aroma of bergamot in the Earl Grey tea was so intensely floral and fruity all at once that it felt like I was sipping perfume. To this day, I can't make up my mind about whether I love or hate Earl Grey tea. I would never drink it on a regular basis but on occasion, it feels very special indeed. And if you have to consume things that taste of perfume, there's no better time than summer. A bag of Earl Grey tea added that special something to my pitcher of iced tea.

Earl Grey Iced Tea


5-6 cups filtered water
4 tea bags Orange Pekoe black tea (I used Taj Mahal brand)
1 tea bag Earl Grey tea (I used Twinings brand)
3 tablespoons sugar
Juice of ½ lemon

1. Heat the water until it is just threatening to boil.
2. Immerse all 5 tea bags in the water and turn off the heat.
3. Add the sugar, cover the pot and let it rest for 30 minutes.
4. Remove and discard the tea bags.
5. Add the lemon juice and refrigerate the tea.
6. Taste for lemon and sugar and adjust if necessary.
7. Serve over plenty of ice.

To go with the cold iced tea, I made some potato-cheese patties. I stuffed a mixture of Pepper Jack cheese, sharp cheddar and minced cilantro into a potato mixture (boiled potatoes, a couple of slices of leftover bread, cumin powder, red chilli powder and dried mango powder), then shallow-fried the patties. Melting herbed cheese encased in golden potatoes. Mmm. These re-heat beautifully in the oven/toaster oven so they are perfect for making ahead for a get-together.

Have a delicious* week ahead. I'll be back here in a couple of days with a cool summer dip.

*Oops...there I go, using a lazy food adjective again!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Greens and Beans

Connections are everything, they say. "It's not what you know; it's who you know". Apparently, the right connections can get you a job, a business contract, all kinds of opportunities in life. But the very best connections, as far as I am concerned, are my foodie connections, this network of bloggers that are all tied together by their passion for food and cooking whether or not they have anything else in common. These connections can get you the things that really matter ;)

One such connection landed me a lot of goodies only a few weeks ago. While I was in Mumbai, I got a warm invitation to visit the home of the Saffron Trail. Nandita cooked a wonderful dinner for V and me and we enjoyed several hours of engaging gup-shup even though we had never set eyes on each other before that evening. Before I left, Nandita generously gave me some fantastic gifts, one of which was a nondescript packet of masala powder called "Goldiee chhole ka masala". With a gleam in her eye, she promised me that this is a fantastic spice blend and you need nothing other than the basic onion and tomato gravy to make a authentic mouth-watering chana masala with this stuff.

She wasn't kidding! These Goldiee people know the formula, for sure. I made what tastes like a complex restaurant-style curry using basic pantry staples like black chickpeas, frozen spinach, garlic, tomatoes and onions. If you don't have this brand, use your own favorite brand of chana masala powder, or perhaps a home-made mix.

Palak Chana


1 C black chickpeas, soaked for 8 hours, then cooked until tender
½ bag frozen leaf spinach
½ large onion, sliced thinly
½ t turmeric powder
1 t chana masala powder (or more/less to taste)
salt to taste
2 t oil
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 ½ large onions, coarsely chopped
3 C canned whole tomatoes (with juice)

1. Make the gravy: Saute onions in oil until golden brown, add garlic and saute for couple of minutes, add tomatoes and saute for 5 minutes. Let the mixture cool for a bit, then grind together into a thick paste.
2. To make the curry, heat the oil and saute the sliced onion until golden.
3. Add the salt, turmeric and chana masala powder. Saute for a minute.
4. Add the spinach, cooked chickpeas and tomato-onion gravy. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes.

Make this curry a day ahead of serving if possible- the taste improves overnight!

To go with the rich chana masala, I used Shilpa's recipe for a fragrant pulao studded with whole spices. My only tweak was to use blanched almonds instead of cashews because that is what I had on hand. On a whim, I skipped the usual golden raisins and added some dried mixed berries (cherries, strawberries, blueberries) instead.

If I survive another day of this ongoing heat wave in St. Louis, I'll be back with a recipe for a summer drink.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Samosas for Breakfast

Perhaps the biggest charm of being on vacation is that the usual rules don't apply. Normally, I try to live more or less as a responsible adult, setting some ground rules for myself. Making dessert only when we have company. Junk food rationed into small katoris. Every meal built around vegetables. That sort of thing. But once I was on that flight, all bets were off.

I started breaking my rules first thing in the morning. The one about eating a wholesome breakfast did not have a chance. I ate every delicious sinful thing I was offered and then reached for seconds.

Here are some of the morning meals I ate during my month in India; each of them can proudly claim to be the breakfast of champions breakfast of champion foodies:

  • Batata vada at home. These homemade batata vadas had an irresistible spicy filling and a crisp golden shell.

  • Batata vadas (again) and sabudana vadas (as big as grapefruits!) at the beloved Hotel Prakash in Shivaji Park, Dadar. I found a great description of this eatery in this post, complete with a look at the menu and a picture of their celebrated sabudana vada.

  • Jalebi, ganthia and patra, bought fresh by an aunt. But who would be crazy enough to eat a lurid orange deep fried syrupy sweet at 8 AM?? Everybody, as it turns out. My aunt patiently explained to me that if you don't rush to this particular famous vendor as soon as you wake up, there will be no jalebis left for you.

  • The classic redolent-with-ghee venn pongal and crisp-as-can-be medu vada combo, made by V's mom.

  • Puri-chhole made by a dear aunt, followed by the most divine dessert, angoor rabdi. And after this breakfast, do you want to know what I had for lunch? Biryani. Seriously.

As I look at this list, I can see favorites from many regions of India- the first two are Maharashtrian classics, the third is a Gujarati favorite, the fourth is a taste of Tamilian festival food and the last is more North Indian.

What follows is another breakfast that my mother rustled up one morning. I took some pictures as she was making them and thought I would share this easy "recipe", if you can call it that. Eating samosas for breakfast feels pretty darn decadent but these are not half bad- in fact, you are using up leftover whole wheat rotis and pan-frying these little treats instead of deep-frying them. So this one is a good compromise between indulgence and nutrition.

All you need is some rotis. Whole wheat tortillas would be a perfect substitute. Choose any filling that you like- my mother made a quick one with onions, peas, potatoes and some spices. Leftover subzis would work just as well. To hold the samosas together, my mother uses a thick paste of chickpea flour (besan) in water, as a glue.

1. Cut chapatis (or whole wheat tortillas) into half. Place the filling in the center triangle of each half.

2. Fold in one side. Dab with the paste. You need less paste than is shown in the picture, actually.

3. Fold the other side and press down firmly.

4. Heat a pan with a drizzle of oil. Place samosas neatly around the pan. Cook on low-medium heat on each side until golden and crispy.

5. Eat ASAP!

*** *** ***

The summer solstice is only a couple of days away, and I'm kicking off my not-so-light summer reading...

What are you reading these days?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Instant Amti for Instant Gratification

I'm back home in St. Louis and getting back to the routine. If this post is more incoherent than usual, don't worry, it is the jet-lag talking. We had a great vacation, and enjoyed the most incredible food, but as we got closer and closer to home, I realized how much I missed my own cooking! It's true- I cook to my own taste, so I love the food I make :D

Coming home, the pantry and refrigerator were as bare as Mother Hubbard's cupboard. I did have some rice and toor dal stashed away, and found a packet of broccoli florets in the freezer. Aha- the makings of a complete home-style meal were emerging here. The only thing needed to complete the meal was this little packet that I dug out from the depths of my luggage.


It is some instant amti masala, a loving gift from my Madhuri maushi (my mom's friend, she of the pav bhaji fame). Madhuri maushi is always full of new and creative ideas and every conversation with her is enlightening. She is both a maven and a connector, someone who knows everything that is going on in the city. In one minute, she answered my queries about the price of a stainless steel lemon squeezer, where to buy men's shirts in a particular neighborhood and what's playing in the local movie theaters. I suspect that when the folks at the Yellow Pages need to make an update, they simply call her.

Anyway, the point is that she told me about this instant amti masala. The point is to combine all the elements of the amti into one mixture that you can simply add to cooked toor dal. Amti is already rather easy to make, but this one is for desperate times like if you just got off a 14.5 hour nonstop flight.

She made this by sautéing curry leaves and cilantro in quite a bit of oil, then adding jaggery and tamarind, cooling the mixture and grinding it together with amti masala or goda masala and salt so that all the components of amti-making are in just ONE mixture. This can be stored in the refrigerator for a few weeks. To make amti, add it to cooked toor dal and bring it to a boil. That's it. I think this is a pretty clever idea and a handy shortcut for busy weeknights.

I made a quick broccoli-potato bhaji, and we sat down to a life-rejuvenating meal, complete with freshly-made and imported mango pickle. The pickle was made by a dear family friend who is an absolute expert at making pickles and preserves. This lady is getting older and has arthritis in her hands, but stoutly assured me that as long as she is around, she will keep us supplied with home-made pickles. How my mother manages to pack oily pickles for these long journeys so that not a drop of oil is spilled is simply beyond me.


*** *** ***

An Update on Dalu

While planning our long vacation to India, the biggest worry was finding a good home for Dale for the time we would be away. This was also the biggest worry for all of our colleagues and friends and neighbors who would gasp, "But what about Dale??" the second we mentioned our travel plans. We certainly did not want to leave the pup in a traditional boarding place, which is often little more than a cramped kennel. After asking around a bit, we found people an hour's drive away who let the "guest dog" have the run of their home, and let the dog run around all day in the acres of land around their home. Luckily, their rates were affordable as well, and that's how Dale spent a month in "doggie summer camp" while we were away. I'm told he chased their cat around the place and took possession of a couch in the living room. He's back home now, doing what he does best- napping here and there, staring moodily into space.