Monday, November 30, 2009

Cashews Are the New Cream

Out grocery shopping this weekend, we spotted a mesh bag of the teeniest tiniest potatoes I have ever seen in my life. Some of them were only a little bigger than chickpeas! V's eyes lit up as he mouthed the words, "dum aloo".

So that is how recipe #32 is Vegan Dum Aloo. The inspiring recipe was this Alu Dum recipe from The Spice Who Loved Me.

There's quite a bit of butter and cream involved in the way most restaurants make this dish. Here, cashew paste takes over and contributes a rich and creamy taste and totally eliminates the need for any dairy products. Paprika is used to add a beautiful color and taste while keeping the curry mild. I chose to roast the potatoes with their skin on; the crackling roasted skin contributes a wonderful smoky flavor to the dish.

Here's my version of the original recipe:

1. The potatoes-
Wash and dry 2-3 cups of baby potatoes. Prick each one 2-3 times with a fork and toss them in olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread the potatoes on a baking sheet in a single layer and roast at 425F for 20-25 minutes (I used a toaster oven to save energy) or until the potatoes are fork-tender.

2. The paste-
a) Chop 2 medium onions in large dice. Saute them in a spoonful of oil until light brown. Let them cool down.
b) Soak ¼ cup raw cashews in hot water for 20 minutes or so.
c) Grind together the soaked cashews and onions to a fine, thick paste.

3. Heat oil and temper it with 1 tsp. each of cumin seeds and nigella seeds (kalonji).

4. Add 2 tsp. ginger-garlic paste, 2 tsp. kasuri methi, turmeric, red chilli powder, paprika, salt and saute for several seconds.

5. Stir in the cashew paste and a cup of tomato puree and cook the mixture together for 10 minutes. Add water as required to adjust the consistency of the curry to your own taste.

6. Taste the curry and add a pinch of sugar if it is too tangy. Finally, turn off the heat, add the following:
1 tsp. garam masala
the hot roasted baby potatoes
handful of minced cilantro

Let the curry rest, covered, for 10 minutes to allow the flavors to blend in. Serve with rotis (or whole wheat tortillas masquerading as rotis) or rice.

Thanks to everyone who took the time to write in very helpful tips regarding rice cookers on my previous post! Y'all are the best!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Back to Basics

After a few days of indulging in heavy holiday fare, our bodies were crying out for a simple meal of dal and rice.

Most Indian cooks have their go-to dal, a dish of everyday lentils that they don't need a recipe for, something they have probably made enough times that they can cook it blindfolded with one hand tied behind their backs.

The great thing about food blogging is that we now have unprecedented access to the go-to dals of so many different home cooks. And that's how Recipe #33 is Sonia's Gujarati Daal. I love dishes where sweet and spicy flavors get to play together, so it is no wonder that I am in love with Gujarati dal.

I followed Sonia's recipe very closely, using dried kokum for the most authentic tangy note.

This dal truly was an explosion of flavors. I served it with a simple farazbi-batata bhaji (saute of french beans and potato) and fresh steamed rice, with the requisite dollop of lemon pickle on the side (this one was made by a friend at home and sent to me in the mail!).

Speaking of steamed rice, I have a question for those of you who own rice cookers: Is a rice cooker a valuable addition to your kitchen? Do you use it often? Do you use it to make anything other than plain steamed rice? I'm wondering whether to buy a rice cooker and your suggestions about whether to buy one in the first place, and what brand/size to buy, are much appreciated. Thank you!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Savory Bread Pudding

How can soggy bread taste so irresistible??

I used the leftover broccoli rabe from here and leftover butternut squash from this recipe to make Recipe #34: a savory bread pudding last night.

The original recipe again came from Alanna; I halved it and tweaked it slightly. Here is my adaptation in short:

1. Saute 1 onion and ½ bunch broccoli rabe in olive oil and butter. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

2. Custard: Mix, using an immersion blender
1 egg
¾ cup 2% milk
¼ cup cream
lots of good mustard

3. In a bowl, mix
5-6 slices whole grain bread, cut in cubes
3-4 cups diced raw butternut squash (it cooks during baking)
1 cup shredded aged cheddar.
Stir in onion mixture. Place in a greased baking dish.

4. Pour the custard over to soak the bread mixture. Bake at 375F.

This was absolutely delightful as it baked, and the taste was fabulous!

On a quick side dish, I made balsamic-glazed brussels sprouts. Everything tastes better with a balsamic glaze. If I cut up old sneakers into strips and glazed them with balsamic vinegar, we would probably eat them with gusto.

*** *** *** Fresh off the needles *** *** ***

All year long, I have been tossing our wine and champagne corks into a drawer. In the past week, the corks crawled out and donned matching hats and sweaters- now there are cork elves crowded in my living room.






Isn't this a cute way to recycle corks into holiday ornaments? This clever pattern is generously shared by Manne and translated into English by Saartje (she of the famous booties).

Tomorrow- something light and simple after all the holiday indulgence.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Pumpkin Flan

This is what I made for Thanksgiving dessert- Pumpkin Nutmeg Flan, another long-bookmarked recipe that I finally found a muhurat to make. V is an ardent fan of flans and caramel custards of all types, so I knew he would love this dessert.

To keep it simple, I skipped the cookie topping in the original recipe.

The one technique that is used here is baking in a hot water bath or a bain marie. Read more about this technique here.

Here's how the original recipe came to be Recipe #35: Pumpkin Flan.

1. Pre-heat the oven to 375F.

2. Put a kettle of water to boil, for the bain marie.

3. In a large bowl, add

7 eggs
1 15 oz. can canned pumpkin puree
1 14 oz. can condensed milk
1 12 fl. oz. can evaporated milk
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. ground nutmeg

Use an immersion blender to make a smooth mixture.

4. In another pan, melt 1 cup sugar into amber caramel.

5. Pour the caramel carefully into a loaf pan. Add the pumpkin mixture and bake in a bain marie for 15 mins. Then turn down the oven to 350F and bake until set (inserted knife should come clean), 45 minutes or so.

6. Chill, then invert before serving.


One problem I had was that there was way too much pumpkin mixture- it would have overflowed the loaf pan. At the last minute, I had to grab a smaller bowl and set up another bain marie so as not to waste the remaining mixture. So if you plan on using these proportions, have 2 oaf pans, or one loaf pan and some extra baking cups ready.

Another thing I would do differently next time is to cover the pans with foil while baking to avoid a rubbery surface from forming.

The flan was absolutely delicious- with flavors of pumpkin and nutmeg, it was the perfect alternative to pie on this holiday.

To all those who celebrate it, Happy Thanksgiving! I have a very very long list of things that I am thankful for, but I'll only mention here my gratitude to the good folks who visit this space, share their love for home cooking and always have a kind word for me. Thank you.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Green Bean Casserole

After years of hoarding this recipe in my bookmarks folder, I finally made it on the eve of Thanksgiving.

Recipe #36 is a Thanksgiving staple, green bean casserole. Alanna promised that this is the "world's best" and the recipe delivered! For one thing, only one can was harmed in the making of this dish (only fried onions, instead of fried onions AND canned green beans AND canned mushroom soup).

I followed Alanna's recipe closely, only making the following modifications:
1. I skipped the sherry since I did not have it on hand.
2. I used stems and caps of mushrooms.
3. I used mushroom stock in place of the chicken stock.
4. I mixed together the whole can of fried onions and a handful of panko for the topping instead of making fresh breadcrumbs.

With bright and crunchy green beans in a savory sauce, this casserole was wonderful to warm up a cold winter evening!

And starting tomorrow, I have a 4 day weekend. Don't get me wrong, I love going in to work every day, but...WOO HOO! What's even more unusual is that I have no social events planned during these 4 days, so I have all the time in the world to do nothing at all. What a delightful feeling. But cooking is on the agenda, and I'll be back with a new recipe tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Simplicity Itself

In a comment on my last post, Rujuta suggested that I cook an authentic Maharashtrian recipe today. I had the perfect recipe in my bookmarks folder and the matching vegetable in the fridge so it all came together beautifully.

And in record time; hand-on cooking for this dish is about 4 minutes, and then you can let it cook unattended. Harried cooks, read on!

Recipe #37 is for glazed butternut squash, Maharashtrian style. The original recipe is that of bhople che bhaji (red pumpkin vegetable dish) from one of my very favorite blogs, the cook's cottage. I adore food bloggers who have an original voice and are true to themselves, and the authenticity in this blog comes shining true. And this blogger knits- always a plus in my book!

I bought a large stash of butternut squash last weekend, and used up half today and saved half for the Thanksgiving dinner entree. Butternut squash is in season here so it is the logical substitute for red pumpkin.

This is a fantastic recipe. A few seeds (mustard, fenugreek, sesame and poppy, to be exact) and spices (the unique goda masala has a prominent role) transform the humble squash; jaggery (unrefined sugar) adds a yummy, sticky glaze and bolsters the natural sweetness of the squash.

My only modification to the original recipe was to start with 2-3 tsp. oil and to not strain it out at the end (there was no visible oil for me to strain out).

I have to warn you: you will want to lick your fingers as you eat this dish. And possibly the serving spoon, as long as no one is looking.

Starting tomorrow, a string of Thanksgiving dishes!

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Daily Grind

One day I learned a simple cooking technique that turned out to be one small step for me, one giant leap for my culinary skills. This is it:

Grinding fresh spice pastes- in so many recipes, this is a step that takes the dish to a whole new level. In India, many kitchens are equipped with "mixies", compact grinders that can reduce tough whole spices to dust and churn fried onions to a silky paste. I haven't invested in one of these, but for now, my small inexpensive coffee grinder allows me to make spices pastes and powders that are quite satisfactory. Although mine is a Kitchenaid model sold in the US, there are 3 words written on this machine that make me quite confident about its pulverizing abilities: "Made in India".

My countdown to the new year continues, and recipe #38 is alambi bhaat (mushroom rice) from Enjoy Indian Food. Meera unstintingly shares recipe after authentic recipe; this blog is a goldmine of regional Indian food. Mushroom rice is a very inadequate name for this dish; with fresh coconut and spices and the umami flavor of mushrooms, the aroma nearly made me swoon.

The main modification I made to Meera's recipe was to use a whole box (10 oz, 5-6 cups) of mushrooms for 1.5 cups rice, because we love the flavor of mushrooms and they cook down so much. I also made a single spice paste instead of the two in the original recipe because if there is a short cut, you can be sure I'll take it.

Here is my shorthand recipe for alambi bhaat, to get the detailed recipe (and see a pic of the finished dish), look at Meera's post.

1. Fry
-coriander seeds

2. Grind the above to a fine paste with
-green chillies. Set aside.

3. Fry onions, add turmeric, red chilli powder, garam masala.

4. Add mushroom slices, fry for several minutes.

5. Add the spice paste, soaked rice, water, salt. Cook. Add lemon juice at the very end.

Meera wasn't kidding. As soon as I took my first bite of this bhaat, I was flooded by a taste memory. It does taste exactly like the prawn rice (kolambi bhaat) I remember eating as a kid. This one is a keeper!

I served it with a radish-cucumber salad for a fantastic dinner.

So, tell me, what should I cook next?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Ful Medames: An Attempt

We love eating at restaurants that serve Middle Eastern cuisine; the menus are usually predictable but we love the line-up of creamy hummus, luscious baba ghanouj, crispy falafel and the rest of the mezze. A few weeks ago, I was happy to taste something new at a local restaurant (reviewed here) - ful medames, curried fava beans; excellent for sopping up with warm pitas.

On my last trip to the international store, I decided to buy a small bag of fava beans:

Today, I tried making Recipe #39: ful medames in my own kitchen (after soaking and pressure cooking them), using this recipe (doesn't it look good??) as my inspiration. With only a handful of ingredients- onion, garlic, tomato, cayenne pepper, zatar spice- this is what I got.


The verdict: The taste was wonderful, so the inspiring recipe is spot on, but I think I used the wrong kind of fava beans. These had skins that were too leathery and the insides were not quite plump enough. Perhaps I should use canned fava beans or skinless ones. So this one goes into the "try, try again" pile.

If anyone has experience with fava beans or a favorite way to make ful medames, please leave me a note- thanks!

See you tomorrow night with another recipe :)

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Going green

This morning, I realized that it is exactly 40 days until the dawn of 2010. Doesn't the year 2010 sound so futuristic somehow? All gleaming spaceships instead of this dusty old planet? To conjure up some excitement for myself, I'm getting started on a mini challenge: I hope to try 40 new recipes by the time the shiny happy new year rolls around. Am I crazy? Can I do it? Watch this space and we'll both discover if I can pull this off.

The countdown begins with a bang: Recipe #40 is Sandeepa's sarson da saag, something I bookmarked just yesterday both for the recipe and for her discussion of the now formalized practice of "unfriending" (read her post to find out more).

I was intrigued to find that instead of the usual mustard greens, she used its cousin broccoli rabe (pic below) to make sarson da saag. This is a flavorful Punjabi dish that makes it to Indian restaurant menus across the globe and as usual, sparks off restaurant envy in me.


My history with broccoli rabe gave me pause. I remember buying it years ago, sauteeing it and making a quick pasta with it, and having to throw the whole thing into the trash because it was too bitter for words. Well, today I gave it a second chance. Using Sandeepa's recipe (given to her by a kind acquaintance), I made sarson da saag that knocked my socks off.

See the original recipe here. Here's how I made the Sarson da Saag:

1. Take ½ large bunch of broccoli rabe. Wash and coarsely chop it to get about 6-8 cups in all (only remove the toughest part of the stems, the rest can be used).

2. Pressure cook the broccoli rabe with 1.5 cups water. 1 whistle worked fine for me.

3. When the cooker is cool enough to open, stir in 1 package frozen spinach and 1 heaped tbsp. besan (chickpea flour) into the cooked broccoli rabe. Use an immersion blender to puree the mixture.

4. In another large pan, heat 1 tbsp. oil and fry 2 large chopped onions until brown. Add 1 tbsp. ginger-garlic paste and stir for a minute or two.

5. Add salt, turmeric, red chilli powder, all to taste and stir for a few seconds.

6. Add 1 cup tomato puree and fry well for a few minutes.

7. Add the pureed greens, bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes.

8. Add a pinch of garam masala right after you turn off the heat.

I did not have tofu or paneer on hand, so I stirred in a package of mock chicken strips (gluten strips) at the end. Because this was a Saturday night dinner where splurges are allowed, I added a dab of butter and a splash of cream at the very end. This recipe was an unqualified success- we loved the pleasant bitterness of the greens and the warmth of the spices. This made about 6 large servings.

In conclusion, I'm friending you, Broccoli Rabe. As long as you don't get too bitter, I won't dream of unfriending you. txt me, k?

By the way, speaking of buzzwords, going green, the title of this post, is on the list of overused words/phrases that some people want to banish this year.

*** Puppy Update ***

Dale got a very very special gift this Diwali, a red scarf with the prettiest paisley design. He wore it proudly on his walks...

and I think he wants to say something:


Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Cheater's Rasmalai

Our friend Brad earned his doctorate last week and we hosted a dinner to celebrate this milestone. As the guest of honor, he got to choose the menu and (surprise, surprise) chose Indian food. I put together a North Indian-ish menu with tandoori tofu and tandoori gobi (cauliflower) as appetizers, dal makhni, fragrant jeera (cumin) rice, achari baingan and a crunchy salad for the main course, and rasmalai for dessert.

Describing rasmalai in English is a feat. Fluffy milk dumplings in cardamom-scented milk? Cheese balls in sweetened milk garnished with nuts? Each description is more unappetizing than the next. How does one describe the milky cloud of the rasgulla and the burst of saffron and cardamom when you bite into it? Would anyone else like to take a stab at this? Usually, I give up in exasperation and say, "Oh, just shut up and eat it- you'll see what it is".

I've been making this (dare it say the word?) semi-homemade cheater's version of rasmalai for years. Canned rasgullas (widely available wherever Indian groceries are sold) are given a tight squeeze to get most of the sticky syrup out and then dunked into thick sweet milk. Once chilled, this is one of my favorite special-occasion desserts.

This is how I make it:
Mix 1 can of evaporated milk (low-fat is OK) and half of cup of regular milk. Bring them to a boil, then simmer gently, stirring frequently for 15 minutes. Add ¼ cup of sugar (or to taste) and generous punches of saffron and cardamom. Let the milk cool down a little.

Meanwhile, you need freshly squeezed rasgullas- I just use two spoons to scoop up a rasgulla (this one happened to be the Ghasitaram's brand) from the can and press the spoons together to remove most of the syrup, then place the dry rasgulla into the serving bowl.

Pour the warm spiced milk over the rasgullas (warm milk soaks in very satisfactorily). Garnish with toasted chopped pistachios and almonds. Chill and serve in dainty bowls. A small serving goes a long way with this rich dessert. I should note that this last fact did not stop my peeps from going for seconds.


*** Fresh off the needles ***

I reached a minor milestone in my knitting life- my first stranded colorwork project! What is stranded colorwork? The colorwork bit comes from the fact that you use two or more colors in knitting. The stranded bit is how the knitter feels while working on the project. Kidding, kidding.

I was shopping for yarn and saw a colorway called Masala! Of course I had to buy it. Those yarn makers know how to entice me in with preciously named colorways.

Anyway, here is my first proper colorwork project- the beautifully designed Selbu Modern hat pattern. It was a tedious knit what with having to peer at a chart every few stitches but I love how it turned out. And I did not make any mistakes- that is a major miracle in itself.




Have a great week and I'll see you in a few!

Sunday, November 08, 2009

A Sweet Idea & A Sweet Snack

It is early November and already in North America one can sense the rising excitement of the annual holiday season. For anyone looking for something meaningful and creative to do, I want to share some information about a tax-exempt nonprofit organization project called Drop In & Decorate founded by food writer Lydia Walshin; I am an ardent fan of her informative and excellent blog, The Perfect Pantry.

This will be the 8th year of cookies-for-donation in Lydia's kitchen. The idea behind Drop In & Decorate is simple: bake some cookies; gather a group of family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, to decorate the cookies together; donate the cookies to a nonprofit agency serving basic human needs in your own community. Lydia assures us that she is baking-challenged and that no experience or baking expertise is needed to do this!

It’s a simple idea in a complicated world, and something anyone can do. Many of us donate necessities like food, clothing and personal items to our local non-profit agencies, and these are absolutely essential, no doubt about it. But there is something very special about getting a unique, hand-decorated cookie that someone took the time to make. It is a touch of whimsy and a splash of color where it is most required.

If you are looking for a smile or an "awwwww..." or a happy giggle in the next 5 seconds, you must visit the Drop In and Decorate flickr page. It seems like cookie decoration brings out the inner Warhol (and the inner child) in people!

There’s a free guide with everything you need to know to host your own party that can be downloaded from their website. If you’d like to host your own Drop In & Decorate event, Pillsbury and Wilton would like to help with coupons and cookie cutters. Write to lydia AT ninecooks DOT com for more info on how to get your free coupons and cookie cutters.

I have not hosted a Drop In & Decorate party yet, but I did go to an event last weekend that was similar in spirit. A bunch of us participated in a knitting marathon (24 hours where someone or the other was constantly knitting in the venue; I was only there for 2-3 hours), knitting/crocheting baby hats and blankies and socks to be donated to the local Children's Hospital. As items were made, they were hung up on a clothesline for all to admire. These kinds of events simply lead to much joy and camaraderie for all involved, and I hope many of us can participate in events like Drop In & Decorate in the coming months.

*** *** ***

As promised in the title of this post, here's a sweet snack.

My pantry "eat-down" was very successful last week. Two terribly mealy apples and a couple of carrots went into the loaf cake that follows. A large head of cabbage (and a bunch of wilting cilantro) was converted into a big pot of zunka. Cabbage being what it is, there was still a hunk of it left over, and I made some cabbage egg fry one morning for breakfast to eat with a few leftover tortillas. On the very last day, the crisper was empty except for a lonely lemon, and I used that, along with pantry staples quinoa and chickpeas, and some mint from the kitchen windowsill to make a nutritious quinoa chickpea salad with a lemon-tahini dressing, based on Lisa's recipe.

I love making loaf cakes (as evident by the many different kinds I have posted on this blog). They are flexible in terms of ingredients- I mean, how often can you scoop a "heaped cup" of something into a baking recipe and get away with it?

Apple Carrot Loaf


(adapted from this Harvest Cake recipe)

1. Preheat oven to 350F.

2. Spray a loaf pan and set it aside.

3. In a large bowl, mix together
1 heaped cup whole wheat pastry flour
¼ cup sugar
2 tsp. apple pie spice (or mixture of cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg)
1 tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt

3. Add these to the flour mixture
2 medium apples, peeled and coarsely shredded
2 medium organic carrots, coarsely shredded
Handful of walnuts, chopped

4. In another bowl, mix together
¼ cup canola oil
¼ cup buttermilk (dahi will work too, also see note)
2 large eggs (at room temperature)
1 tsp. vanilla extract

5. Stir wet ingredients into flour mixture and stir gently until just combined.

6. Pour the batter into the greased loaf pan, top with some granulated sugar for crunch (optional) and bake for 45 minutes or so, until an inserted toothpick comes clean.

Note: In practice, I use buttermilk powder instead of buttermilk since I can never use up a whole quart of buttermilk. I add buttermilk powder to the dry mix and equivalent water to the wet ingredients.

The autumnal aroma of baking apples and pie spices filled up the kitchen as this loaf baked. A couple of slices of this cake is the perfect mid-morning snack. For many more apple cake ideas, click here.

Have a wonderful week ahead!

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Onion Mushroom Tart

Every few weekends, we skip the usual grocery run. It is one of those small things that significantly reduces food waste by giving us opportunity to "eat down" the food stash and forces us to use up every last bit of produce. The bonus is that we have one less errand to do and a couple more hours to laze about, always a good thing.

It is a bit of a game for me to look around the kitchen and say, "How many meals can I make from the food that we already have"? I am always amazed at how food can be creatively stretched and how even vegetables that are past their prime can be eaten up instead of being tossed out. A few onions were just starting to get a little old, so I caramelized them and made a modified pizza for a tasty Sunday night supper.

The pizza crust is essentially the same recipe I have posted before but now that I own a lifetime supply of instant yeast (a one lb bag), the first proofing step is unnecessary. This dough is kneaded entirely in the food processor.

Onion Mushroom Tart


1. Pizza dough (start this step 3-4 hours of time)
In a food processor bowl fitted with a metal blade, add
1.5 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp. instant yeast
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
Pulse to combine. Then, with the motor running, feed in 1 tbsp. olive oiland drizzle in warm water (half cup or a little more as needed) to make a soft elastic dough. Place it in an oiled bowl, cover it and let it rise for 2-3 hours.

2. Make the topping:
-Saute 3-4 thinly sliced medium onions in olive oil for 30-35 minutes over medium-low heat until they are beautifully caramelized.
-Add 4 cups diced cremini mushrooms, dried oregano, dried thyme, red peper flakes, salt and pepper to taste and continue to saute until the mixture is quite dry.
-In the last few minutes of cooking, stir in 2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar.
-Turn off the heat and stir in a handful of coarsely chopped olives. Let the topping cool down.

3. To make the tart: Preheat oven to 475F.

4. Grease a rectangular 11x17 inch (or so) sheet pan very well with olive oil. Place the risen dough on the pan and spread it to fill the entire pan in a single layer. You may have to pause intermittenly to allow the dough to rest so it can be rolled out well.

5. Spread the topping in an even layer. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until the crust is done and the cheese is bubbling. Cut in squares and serve right away.

The flavors of the sweet smoky onions, juicy mushrooms, salty olives against the crunch of the freshly baked crust were simply irresistible.

Cut into diagonal strips, this tart would be a lovely appetizer. The filling is very versatile, and could be used as a sandwich spread, or in a festive puff pastry braid like this one.

Psst...if you are a blogger who likes to send and receive gifts, there's a new edition of Blogging By Mail this month, hosted by Stephanie; sign-ups are open.