Sunday, January 22, 2012

Peas Curry Hot

Like in many Indian kitchens, my pantry shelves are home to a colorful array of dried lentils and beans and peas. Some are more versatile than others. The container marked "dried yellow peas" (also called safed vatana) is often shoved to the back because the poor yellow pea seems to be a one hit wonder around here. I use it for that most adored street food dish- ragda patties- but this week I decided to broaden the yellow pea horizon a bit and look for another recipe to use them. 

Enter Shilpa of Aayi's Recipes with her wonderful sounding recipe for a Goan curry called tonak. I've eaten just such curries in Goa (in homes, not in restaurants) and the taste memory came flooding back. Like so many Konkani/Goan recipes, the ingredient list is short but the use of a thick paste of onions and coconut adds an abundance of flavor. This recipe is an undemanding one; everything I needed was already in the pantry. It is a good recipe for times when you are running low on fresh produce and need to cook from the larder. I used coconut oil to fry the onions for the curry which added another dimension of that beachy coastal flavor- so welcome in the dismal January gloom when there's freezing rain pelting your windows. 

Garam masala (literally, "warm spices") makes all the difference in this recipe. Over time, I have used all different kinds of garam masala, some that I made myself from different recipes, others that were store-bought. This particular batch is the "family blend" brought over by my parents. It was made by the lovely woman who has worked as a cook in my parents' home for decades. Her hands are sheer magic and this particular garam masala is the best I have ever tasted. If you find a blend of garam masala that you like, hang on to it! It makes the simplest food come alive. 

By the way, if these yellow peas are not available to you, I think this curry would be wonderful with fresh/frozen green peas, black eyed peas or brown lentils instead of the yellow peas.  

Yellow Peas Curry
(Adapted from this recipe from Aayi's Recipes)
2 cups dried yellow peas (safed vatana)
For curry paste:
2 tsp. oil
1 large onion, sliced
3/4 cup dried coconut flakes
For curry:
2 tsp. coconut oil
1 medium onion, sliced
1 tsp. red chilli powder
2 tsp. tamarind paste
1 tsp. garam masala
Salt to taste

  1. Soak the yellow peas in water overnight. Rinse and pressure cook until tender. 
  2. While the peas cook, make the curry paste. In a pan, heat the oil. Fry the onion gently until well browned. Add the coconut and roast for a couple more minutes. Cool the mixture and grind it to a thick paste with a little water.
  3. Heat the coconut oil and fry the sliced onion. 
  4. Add the curry paste, red chilli powder, tamarind, garam masala and salt. 
  5. Add the cooked yellow peas and enough water to make a curry. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Taste and adjust the balance of salt/sour/spice. 

We truly enjoyed the complex flavors of this curry, soaked up in hunks of crusty rolls. The next day, I enjoyed the leftover peas curry with steamed rice. A wedge of lemon, a drizzle of amber ghee (freshly made; I was making a fresh batch of ghee that day) and a microwave roasted papad completed this utterly satisfying meal (pictured above).

Did you do anything exciting this weekend? The highlight of my weekend was a trip to the St. Louis Art Museum to see Monet's waterlilies. I am no art aficionado but I know what looks good to my eyes and I could have stared at the Agapanthus triptych for hours. It turns out that Lila is not fond of impressionistic painters- she slept on V's shoulder right through our visit. I'm guessing she prefers expressionism.

Have a lovely week, all!

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Jammy Thumbprint Cookies

We're still in the first week of 2012, so it is not too late for me to wish you all a good one.

Our little family spend New Year's Eve the same way we have celebrated this day for the past 4 years- at a cozy dinner party hosted by a dear friend who was a former neighbor. It was a small gathering of very interesting people- artists and historians and architects. One of the regulars at the party was a lovely lady, an award-winning textile artist who happens to be 90 years old. After dinner, she invited us up to see her studio and her beautiful home, and took us up to the rooftop to see the new year being rung in with fireworks. Being in her company was the most inspiring way to start the new year.

Imagine my shock and sadness when just 2 days into 2012, she suffered a massive stroke and has now passed on. Such is life- the present moment is all we have; there's no telling what tomorrow will bring. I will remember her as a glowing example of how to approach life with grace and humor, to revel in the beauty and color around us, and to create good things always. I'm so glad Lila got a chance to be held and cuddled by her, and that I told her that night how I think she is the coolest person. Too often we wait until people are gone to say how awesome they were.

Right now it looks like 2012 might be an eventful year for us. We will likely have close family members visiting us, a few new nieces/nephews coming into this world, and perhaps even a move to a different place. And when I cook or bake something delicious, you'll definitely be the first to know.

My baking spree in the holiday season gave me a chance to try a long bookmarked recipe- vegan thumbprint cookies that I first saw on The Kitchn. The recipe is titled "life-changing cookies"- how could I resist making them and seeing if they changed my life??

I followed the recipe closely. The recipe did not specify whether the almonds were raw or roasted; I started with raw almonds and toasted them a little before cooling and grinding them. If you have a bunch of half-full jam jars in the fridge door like I did, you can make a colorful assortment of these cookies. Along with the usual strawberry and raspberry jam, I was able to use some wonderful blackberry jam which was a sweet gift from The Cooker. Finally, I made sure the cookies were baked until they looked nice and toasty, which enhanced the flavor and gave them a wonderful crunch.

The first batch of thumbprint cookies made their way into several cookie boxes for Christmas gifts and we snacked on them. At first, I was a little underwhelmed. These are hardly life-changing, I thought to myself. But with a hearty taste and just the right amount of sweetness, the cookies grow on you. What really surprised me was the feedback from my friends. One friend reported that the box barely lasted until the next morning (and they had been delivered after dinner the night before). Another confessed that he could barely force himself to save a cookie or two to share with the rest of the family. A third e-mailed asking for the recipe. Suffice it to say that the cookies were very popular. I shrugged and promptly mixed another batch of dough. Try these cookies if you get the chance. They are eggless, vegan even. And the sticky, jammy centers will appeal to the kid in you.

Books for Baby

These days, this is one of my favorite books to read to Miss Baby: Guess How Much I Love You written by Sam McBratney and illustrated by Anita Jeram.

It is a sweet and simple story with the most darling illustrations. The one problem is that I get choked up with emotion every time I read this book to Lila. I dare you not to cry when you read this book. It will make even the most cold and cynical heart melt into a puddle.

Having a newborn has also introduced me to the world of fabric books. Fabric books are cuddly and even the most spirited babe will find it hard to tear them! When my parents were here, we spent many happy hours browsing in craft and fabric stores, and found a fabric printed with book pages, ready to be cut and sewn into a cute little book. Of course my mother had to pull out the sewing machine and make it for her grand-baby.

Anyway, that's my little bloggy fix for the weekend. Have a good week ahead!