Sunday, January 26, 2014

Gotasheddo: A boat that you steer, always.


This is not a recipe. Perhaps just a guideline, yes? Hell, even just an exercise.

And since the beauty of this 'exercise' is in the choice of ingredients, let's talk about those  The rest is kind of up to you :)



This recipe is really just a combination of lentils/ dry beans, seasonal vegetables, some greens, herbs/flavors and, this is important, a good quality flavored oil for dressing this beauty.  Or perhaps, you can use a choice of spices, one that captures your fantasy or even just your mood-Sicilian, Calabrian, Spanish, Mediterranean, North African, Peruvian, Indian-to flavor that oil. The oil needs to be fragrant.

Some examples. Mediterranean flavors are more about herbs, eastern (Asian) are about spices and south American are about good use of chile. So think about how you intend to use the flavor. And then choose your spices and lentils, gather a bunch of seasonal veggies , cook together slowly, season and dress. Some recommendations based on my long experiments with this recipe. For a...

French knot: Split peas (these are dry, so soak it overnight and boil for 30 minutes before starting on with the rest of the recipe), sage in browned butter for drizzling. The veggies could be anything. Skip the ginger and go easy on the garlic. Maybe even skip it.

An Italian grand prix-- Green lentils, olive oil flavored with anchovies and or perhaps thyme-Rosemary? Maybe even add celery and bell peppers and eggplants :)

Peruvian : I did use Yams. yes. Olive oil with paprika.

Mexican : Olive oil flavored with poblano chile. Some cilantro at the end. Used lima beans.

Moroccon : Chickpeas (for sure), olive oil flavored with cumin, cloves and maybe a dash of Harissa

Closer home in eastern India, Gota sheddo ( translating to 'whole cooked'--really!)

You will need
2 cups of dried lentils.
(Lentils are staple of India food. The choices are plenty. Yellow, red, split pea. I typically use red or yellow)
1/3 lb of potatoes. I like to use the ones in season. In spring, I  adamantly using baby red skinned ones. Winter I move to yams, parsnips. Even russet potatoes. Less starchy would work better, I think.
3-4 carrots (you can use beets or any colored root vegetable)
2 eggplants. Small ones are better as you can leave those whole. Slightly bigger ones like Chinese or Italian or regular eggplants, you may have to cut it into 3-4 pieces. Use your best judgement.
Some greens. I like to use Kale. But Collards, spinach (use with stems, the wild ones because they are sturdy), mustard greens. All is good.
3 cloves of garlic. Whole
1 inch ginger--grated
Salt
A pinch of sugar

Heat water in a big dutch oven. Once boiling, add the potatoes. Then add the yellow lentils. When about half done, add the carrots, eggplants and green beans. Add ginger, garlic, jalapeno, salt and sugar. Mix. This one is dry. So dont add too much water. Again use your best judgement. Cook till done. Add the greens. Cook for another 2 minutes. Pour in a bowl. 
In a skillet, add oil (I used olive oil you can go with any even. Mustard oil would be great). I added a combination of red chili flakes, cumin and nigella seeds. Wait for the aroma. Take the oil off the heat. You don't want to burn the spices. Bad mistake. If that happens just  skip the spice bit and drizzle olive oil, mustard oil or avocado oil or truffle oil or whatever flavorful oil you have on hand (vegetable/canola/grape seed oil and such are not advised). Assuming you did fine with flavoring the oil with your choice of spices, just drizzle that oil on top of your dish. Serve with bread, rice, some lemon. Some wine, if the flavor directs you in that direction.

A wonderful comfort food that you can pretty much take it to any part of the world. This is one boat that you pretty much steer yourself.

Happy eating and healthy living


Monday, April 8, 2013

Spring celebration!


Spring is here.

In the U.S Northwest, in the crevices of the Cascades, Yakima, Snake and Columbia river, there is no mistaking the Spring. It is everything your books ever told you. Balmy days--with a  nip in the morning-- dews, blooming trees and here, the story end. Very very windy days. I actually time my arrival and departure with the winds. No its true :)




But by far the best is the spring vegetables, incredible fish (Salmon) and great wine. I start again with this spring celebration of the Pacific Northwest. At my new home in Eastern Washington.



You will need
A good fresh fillet or steak of Salmon (about a lb)
One lb of asparagus
1/3 lb of red skinned baby potatoes. Cut into halves.

2 cloves of garlic
6-10 thyme sprigs (take the leaves off about five of them. Chop. Leave the rest intact)
Zest of one maybe two lemons
3-5 tbsf olive oil
½ tsp of butter
A hint of cayenne
Black pepper
Salt

Preheat the oven to 420 F

In an oven proof baking casserole, place potatoes cut side down. Drizzle olive oil, salt and pepper. Mix well. Be liberal. Always helps
Bake for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile peel (or not, peeling does make the eating a  better experience) the asparagus. Cut out the thick bottoms. Then slice diagonally. Once. Toss with the thyme, lemon zest, cayenne, salt and pepper and olive oil

Heat a skillet. Make it pretty hot. Smear a brush of butter, once skillet is hot. Season the fish with salt and pepper. Place seasoned side down. Cook for 2-3 min, till it is easy to flip it. The browning helps with the flipping. So if you are not being able to flip your fish, wait. Also its good to season the face up side, while waiting for the other to brown.

Flip and cook for another two minutes.

All of this should be timed (about 10-15 minutes) to be ready for the potatoes to come out. This is the only thing  to remember, by the way.

Reduce oven temperature to 350 F

Take out the potatoes—place the asparagus above and within the potato spaces. Places the fish gently on top of everything. Spoon the remains of the garlic oil as well as any butter on the skillet—right on top of the fish. No particular way. Just do it. Thrown in the rest of the thyme sprigs

Back in the oven at 350 (do reduce that temperature) for ~ 12-15 minutes to gently finish cooking. A knife should go through the fish and potatoes easily. No resistance.

Squeeze the lemons all over. Wait for 5-10 mins for the flavors to come together. Serve with some brown crusty baguette. And some Riesling. Enjoy Spring while it lasts :)

Happy eating and healthy living

Friday, July 20, 2012

Impress a dinner date with capsicum stuffed with mother-in-laws- lamb filling (Turkish style)


Who does not want to impress the mother-in-law?
In all cultures there are special recipes to do the trick. The recipes are simple but tricky.You do the trick and the lady  smiles and dotes over you :)
I wanted to impress a date over dinner.  I adapted a classic Turkish meatball recipe, typically used to impress the Turkish mother-in-law, to stuff capsicum. I figured if I can get the recipe to work, my date is my man :) I skipped the part of rolling the lamb filling into bulgur and making a classic meatball soup. The stuffed capsicum impressed my date pretty adequately. And it will impress anyone. What with almonds, raisins, thyme and oregano and garlic....Here it is then

Minced lamb stuffed capsicum (Turkish style and adapted from Ghille Basan)
Serves 2
Ingredients:
1 onion
4 cloves of garlic
1 tbsf olive oil
A small handful of walnuts or almonds chopped
1/ 2 tsp pf cumin powder
1/2 lb of minced lamb
1/2 tsp of dried thyme
1/2 tsp of dried oregano
2 large bell peppers
3-4 tbsf olive oil

In two steps
Preheat the oven to 500F (or as high as you can get it). Take the tops of the capsicums and seeds off. Rub some salt and olive oil inside and out.  Broil for 5- 6 min. You may grill as well. Alternatively, char over coal (excellent) or directly over high heat. whatever you do, do not over cook. It will droop and will hold the filling well. Handle with care after you have done charring the capsicums. Set aside to cool.
Soften the onion and garlic in olive oil. Stir in cumin and walnut followed by the minced meat. Cook for 5 minutes. Not too lomg. You will cook it in the oven. So do not over cook and dry out the juices. Add the thyme and oregano. Season with salt and pepper.
Carefully stuff the filling into the bell peppers. Drizzle some olive oil over the top. Bake for 30 mins at 350 or 375 F. Serve as warm as possible.

 Happy eating and healthy living!

Aubergine Pilaf with a hint of cumin and loads of tomato flavor


The Turkish call it Aubergine; they create magic with this vegetable, while the more popular cuisines of the world prefer not to do business with it. No wonder the Turkish refer to it as Aubergines, while we refer to it as 'eggplant' or 'Brinjal'. And because I love how 'aubergine' conjures up images of rich layers of olive-oil steeped eggplants seasoned with herbs and topped with creamy yogurts, for the rest of this post I am going to stick to 'Aubergines'.
As I said before, the Turkish create magic with aubergine. In their land it becomes a versatile vegetable. When they mash it they create Baba ghanoush. Legend has it that Baba ghanoush was invented in one of the harems of the Ottoman empire. But there are so many other ways of cooking Aubergine in the Turkish way, that mashing seems a boring thing to do. 
They stuff minced lamb within cooked aubergine and slow cook the whole thing for hours so that it melts in your mouth and touches a thousand pleasure spots all at once. Heaping spoonfuls of tomato and herbs layered on eggplant slices and slow cooked left the imam weeping in delight. In a shepherd's home, aubergines are often charbroiled and mixed with garlic (crushed with sea salt) and yogurt making for a excellent spread. Of all these techniques one simple method has gotten me hooked. Unsurprisingly it has to go with pilafs, the amazingly versatile and often the main dish on a Turkish dinner table. 
Over the years, I have rediscovered pilaf often and again, and fallen in love with its simplicity and grandeur. My favorite is Cherry-Chickpea pilaf (which can be done in a microwave, I find). But the aubergine pilaf makes the cuts even higher. Silk smooth, delectable pieces of aubergine (cooked slowly in olive oil--read on for this technique) mixed with pilaf cooked with tomato puree and a hint of cumin. That is heaven on earth and it is all locked in the land of the Ottomans, cumin, cherries and almonds and aubergines..

Aubergine Pilaf (Adapted from Ghille Basan-- an excellent author)
Ingredients:
1 large aubergine
1 cup of rice. Long grain is better.
1 small onion. Sliced
2 cloves of garlic. Slivered
1/2 tsp of sugar
1/2 tsp of whole cumin
1/2 tsp of whole coriander
(You can toast the spices and then grind it for best results. Or you can do what I did. Just crush them with a hand held mortar. I believe powders should works as well)
2 small tomatoes. Diced
2 tsp of tomato paste or puree. I like the paste better. Do not use Ketchup. Please?
2 cups of water. Lukewarm or at least room temperature. You can use stock as well.
6-8 tbsf olive oil. Not extra virgin.
Salt and pepper
Parsley for garnish. Optional

Start with a healthy appetite
To make silky rich pieces of aubergine:
Soak aubergines in salted water for at least an hour but no more than three. Drain, squeeze the pieces and dry between paper towels (or kitchen towels). Heat  5-6 tbsf olive oil ( do not sear the oil as the smoke point for olive oil is low) and  gently add the aubergine pieces. After you add  the aubergine in oil, reduce heat, add a tsp or so of olive oil from the top, mix and cover as they fry gently.  Check often. You get luscious aubergine pieces with much less oil. Drain on paper towel and reserve
In the mean time:
Wash and soak rice (if you have the time). Soften onion and garlic in olive oil. Stir in the sugar, cumin, coriander cooking for a couple of mins. Add the tomato puree and tomatoes. Cook for 3-4 mins. Add the rice. Coat everything. Add the water or stock. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to boil. Reduce heat. Cover and simmer. About 20 min. Keep an eye.
When rice is done, turn into a serving dish, mix with the aubergine. Garnish with parsley. Serve warm.

Happy eating and healthy living!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

No one does it better than the spanish--Gazpaccho, a cold tomato soup


It is best, when it is raw. Sad that it does not last long.

Summer is here and if you did not the heat with the soaring temperatures, I hope crates full of sun kissed vegetables gets you in the mood. The lettuce, spinach, sprouts, limes, lemons and green garlic and onions. But nothing looks, or smells for that matter, better than tomatoes. They come in all shapes, colors and sizes. There are the sweet cherry tomatoes and the plump ones on the vine and the classically pretty, heirloom tomatoes. The best part of course is that the tomatoes grow sugary sweet as the summer turns on its heat.

They are cheap now. They will be dirt cheap later on. But the best is when you grown em'. For less than 10$,  I am growing tomatoes on my terrace. 

What really inspired this bout of tomato gardening (more like harvesting), is my fling with ...no not salad. I love salads. But salads did not inspire my tomato gardening. A cold soup did.
It is called Gazpacho.
If you haven't already guessed from the way it sounds, it is Spanish in origin. And like all things red, the Spanish people knows what to do with red juicy stuff, even a crate of summer ripe red tomatoes. They squeeze it, squish it, drizzle some oil and serve it with a squirt of lime and sea salt. 
We are still talking about the cold soup. 
It was last summer when I first had a gazpacho. It was at a cafe in Cambridge. Called cafe Pamplona. And ever since that time, I have become quite fanatic about the cold, well made gazpachos. But I realized that the really nice soups needed home grown tomatoes. And that is why this summer, I am growing my very own tomato on the vines.
Till my tomatoes ripen, of course the farmer's market is doing great. Head over to your nearest, pick the reddest, juiciest and sweetest (usually small) tomatoes and get going with the blender. You don't to waste the summer not doing this soup. It will not be the same a few months down the line :)

Cold Gazpacho

1 lb of fresh tomatoes.
1 cucumber
2 cloves of garlic
1 medium onion
1/2 cup of good quality extra virgin olive oil. You must use Spanish. I am joking. But use really good quality, preferably fruity extra virgin Olive oil. I like Turkish olive oils in this.
Sea salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper.
Drizzle of lime juice

In a blender, puree together the tomatoes, cucumber, onion, garlic and olive oil. Season with sea salt and pepper. Chill for at least 2-3 hours. You must. Serve with an extra drizzle of olive oil, freshly ground black pepper and a dash of lime juice. A slice of bread, toasted, drizzled with olive olive oil and garnished with sea salt work wonders as a nibble on. A glass of red is not bad.



Happy eating and healthy living!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Fish dinners need not always be at the cost of ocean life


Did you know that life on earth originated in the wombs of the ocean?

Early in the earth's history, the atmosphere was thin and could not absorb or reflect the harmful radiations of the Sun. The oceans were the only refuge where fragile life forms could thrive. Oceans thus ensured that life on the earth continue. Over time the atmosphere thickened, life diversified and populated every nook and corner of the earth; today there is not a single place on earth that is devoid of life. Even now, life under the ocean continue to capture our imagination. Mermaids and dolphins. They still beckon us from the deep. The more we know about life under the sea, the more enthralled we get. Our appetite knows no bounds when it comes to the ocean.
Our appetite in fact is so large that it now threatens the very existence of the ocean life. Our desire for seafood, has driven us to excessive and aggressive commercial fishing practices; such practices have not only depleted the marine fish stocks we eat, but also threatens  species that we do not eat but those which are crucial to a healthy marine ecosystem. For example, dolphins that are caught on nets and trawlers, most often get killed. We don't eat the dolphin meat. But we threaten it nonetheless. And dolphins are just one example.
Yes, we are cleaning the ocean of marine life.
More than ninety percent of marine populations--fishes, mammals, coral reefs--are either gone or shall be gone in a few years. So on some evenings when I walk by the beach, I do not see the multiple shades of blue, the breaking surf and the late afternoon sun rays crowning the surf like little jewels. I see the empty ocean bellies. A void we have created by our over zealous appetite for the ocean and its bounty.
Wild seafood is our only direct connection to the ocean and if you think about it, the only wild species we eat. What that means is our choices, habits and desires have a direct impact on the future availability of this delectable food that we enjoy.  Question is can we do something about it or do we just continue with business as usual?

I happen to believe that we can.

Recently the grocery chain, whole foods, has banned several of the over-fished stocks from its market. We need more steps like these by companies. But what about our everyday choices? One that can start with our choice of seafood.  One good source  for all things related to seafood is the website, called the Blue Ocean Institute. The site lists fishes and other marine animals as threatened, vulnerable etc categories. Red and Orange marl categories we want to avoid at all costs. We want to stick to those marked green. And there are plenty and I assure you as a fish snob.
We also want to avoid farmed fish. Farming practices lead to less flavorful fish meat, kills any health benefits associated with a fish based diet and degrades the environment. Did you know that Tilapias are farmed in crowded tanks and fed fish feeds that are full of carcinogens? The dirty water is often dumped into the ocean.
Often times, fresh water wild fishes provide us with a better choice. For example Trouts, Catfish. You can also go with  sea fish like sardines or Branzino or sea bass. I rather eat a good number of grilled wild sardines three days a week, than farmed flavorless Salmon everyday.

Once you find fishes that meet  criteria that protect our health and the ocean, there is not much fun killing the flavor in heavy handed spiciness. Here is a simple technique that works every time.
Dry the fish (ask your fish monger to scale and clean it for you) with some paper towels.Score it on both sizes and rub inside out with some olive oil, pepper and salt. Place it in a skillet or baking tray, surround by aromatics (I love fennel bulbs, onions, tomatoes, carrots, turnips). Drizzle with some olive oil, coarse sea salt, freshly ground black pepper. Bake at 420 F for 30 mins or so.


                             The above is wild caught Trout (check the ratings before you buy)

                                         
                                                                The above is sea bass

The ocean does not have to feed our desires. With a hint of common sense and a interest in creativity, we can choose to please our palates with whatever is still available

Happy eating and healthy living!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Clafouti-- A fancy French dessert without butter and fuss


A fancy dessert, even a French one, does not always have to be time consuming and calorie enhancing. Clafouti (pronounced cla-foo-tee) is one example.

Clafoutis are French in origin and is a cross (yes, a cross almost) between custard and cake, that is made with summer fruits. As Mark Bittman very nicely describes, 'Clafoutis are essentially pancake wrapped around fruits' or words to that effect. The obvious and really classic choice of fruit for a Clafouti is Cherry, which gives you the classical Cherry Clafouti. But Clementines, Grapes, Strawberries, Blueberries, Raspberries --all of them work wonderfully with Clafoutis. It is really like a fruit custard. Only its not.

In fact the a story goes like this. In France they had to call upon a judge to decide whether clafoutis should be in the 'custard' section or the 'cake section' of a cookbook. A French cookbook that is :) After much debate, involving lawyers, judges, cooks, chefs all of them, apparently the cake people won the case. So now you find Clafoutis, at least in French cookbooks, listed under the cake section. This was a story that I read in Dorrie Greenspan's book 'Around my French table'. A wonderful humorous read, excellent recipes and I would say, if you are into or interested in or intimidated by French cooking, you pretty much need this book.



Coming back to Clafoutis, these are incredibly fast to put together and very imprecise, considering its French origin :) Very figure friendly too. You don't have to use butter if you don't want to. I mean if you use a parchment paper to line the cake pan (I don't even do that-yes I am that lazy), you can pretty much forgo butter. As I said, you can feel good about eating this. But what I really love about clafoutis is that it is so versatile. Depending on your milk-to-cream ratio and baking time, you can have a range of textures-- from more custard-y to more cake-y.  And the fruits just pretty much define your Clafouti; blending in perfectly with the batter, each type of fruit imparts an unique flavor to clafoutis. Finally, the dessert, although fancy, is in essence a very rustic one too. In fact, in the French countryside, where this dessert had its origin, whole cherries are used. Whole cherries gives a whole lot of texture and flavor to the clafouti and you don't need to go through the trouble of taking out the cores (which is a very tedious job). You just spit out the cores in a bowl while enjoying your Clafouti. Such bowls are a common summer time feature on French table. I am told so.

So Clafoutis are really an ingenuous dessert that only the French could come up with. You got to give it to them :)

I have been making clafoutis over a couple of years, at least. And I have gone through the entire spectrum of textures and fruits and its now almost my go-to dessert just as soon as berries hit the stands. It has always been a very pleasing dessert to anyone I have presented it to. So take a hit with it. And you know very soon you will find yourself trying a lot these French fancy desserts. Frankly they really don't need that much of reverence :)

Today, I give you two recipes. One is the classical Whole Cherry Clafouti  by Dorrie Greenspan (Around my French Table) and the other is less classical but equally delightful, Clementine Clafouti by Mark Bittman.

Whole Cherry Clafouti by Dorrie Greenspan (Around my French table)
(The above photo is of a whole cherry Clafouti I made using this recipe last summer)

1 lb (450 g) sweet cherries, stemmed but not pitted
3 large eggs
1/2 cup of granulated sugar
Pinch of fine grain sea salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup of whole milk
1/2 cup of heavy cream
(You can use just light cream instead of milk+cream)
Icing sugar/confectioners’ sugar for dusting
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Ensure that your oven rack is centered in the oven.


  • Place a parchment paper on the 9 inch baking tray. 
  • Place the washed and dried cherries into the prepared baking dish in a single layer.
  • In a medium bowl whisk the 3 eggs until they are light and frothy. Add in the sugar and beat with a whisk for a minute or so until the sugar has dissolved. Add in the pinch of salt and the vanilla and whisk well. Add in the flour and beat the mixture vigorously until the flour is well incorporated and smooth.Gentle please
  • Gradually pour in the milk and cream and whisk until well incorporated. Rap the bowl against the counter to release any air bubbles and then pour the batter over the cherries in the prepared baking dish.
  • Bake in the preheated oven for 35 to 45 minutes until the clafoutis is puffed up and golden brown and when a sharp knife blade inserted into the center of the clafoutis comes out clean. If you hit a cherry, try again!
  • Remove from the oven to a cooling rack and allow the clafoutis to cool to room temperature. When you are ready to serve, dust the clafoutis with icing sugar--optional

Clementine Clafoutis by Mark Bittman

Time: About 1 hour

1/2 cup flour, more for dusting pan
3 eggs
1/2 cup granulated sugar
Pinch salt
3/4 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup milk
(You can use just light cream instead of milk+cream)
5 to 15 clementines, peeled and sectioned, about 3 cups
Powdered sugar.

  • Heat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a gratin dish, about 9 by 5 by 2 inches, or a 10-inch round deep pie plate or porcelain dish, by smearing it with butter, just a teaspoon or so. Dust it with flour, rotating pan so flour sticks to all the butter; invert dish to get rid of excess.
  • In a large bowl, whisk eggs until frothy. Add granulated sugar and salt and whisk until combined. Add cream and milk and whisk until smooth. Add 1/2 cup flour and stir just to combine.
  •  Layer or lump clementine sections in dish; they should come just about to the top. Pour batter over fruit to as close to top of dish as you dare; you may have a little leftover batter, depending on size of your dish. 
  • Bake for about 40 minutes, or until clafoutis is nicely browned on top and a knife inserted into it comes out clean. Sift some powdered sugar over it and serve warm or at room temperature. 


Bittman and Greenspan both suggest that Clafoutis does not keep; serve within a couple of hours of making it. But I have eaten it over a couple (maybe even 3 days). Does not exactly taste great..but you can do it :)

Happy eating and healthy eating..even if its a dessert and that too a French dessert :)







Monday, March 26, 2012

Chickpea and cherry pilaf with cumin--did I say Pilafs? :)


I have been a big advocate of simplicity and minimalism. And Pilaf is not something people traditionally associate with either ease or simplicity. They are wrong

Pilafs are rice based dishes of Turkish fame; they are usually cooked along with any combination of fruits, vegetables, beans meat and spices (fish is not an usual component of Pilafs). Although Pilafs are not yet the most popular rice based dishes, they are certainly some of the most versatile ones in the world. Yes,  Pilafs are very versatile and very gorgeous. It can be a simple affair, that can be put together in 20 min or an exhaustive affair lasting a few hours. But whether it takes a few minutes or a few hours to put together, the end result is a delightful combination that can stand alone as a main dish or can be an accompaniment that gets its share of fanfare :)

Over the years I have spent an inordinate amount of time (and money) trying to understand this incredibly aromatic rice based dish called Pilaf. Originating across different sub-regions of the middle-east, Pilaf today is an integral part of Turkish cuisine. But before the Turkish people monopolized this dish, Pilafs did have a long journey. Across the desserts of the middle east, along the banks of the Nile and across the Mediterranean, pilafs have traveled with migrating hordes of people for thousands of years. As a result, along the way it has picked up and incorporated many a tradition, many a folk lore and many a sentiment. True that today it has rest its case with Turkey, but if you ask a thousand people from Turkey, you will see that there is a thousand 'authentic' pilaf recipes.  The truth is, every kitchen in Turkey bears a legacy of that long sojourn from the middle east, that was once a part of the Persian empire, to Turkish districts that is now a part of Europe.

As a result of such a long history Pilafs are versatile and forgiving. You can almost never go wrong making it and that is both the beauty of this dish and reason for its simplicity. Being a part of the poor mans diet and being served in the palace of the imam does not happen when a dish is rigid! Or at least, this is the conclusion that I have arrived at from poring over books and experimenting in the kitchen over the last four (and more) years with Pilafs.

Pilafs are simple to make and elegant in spirit. And all that is required on our part is thinking out of the box. Today I post the simplest of them all. One that captured the love of all four hundred guests at my sister's wedding in India last fall.  

Chickpea and cherry pilaf with cumin 
(a combination of two pilafs from the book Classic Turkish Cuisine)

Ingredients
1 cup of rice. I like Basmati. Any other long grain should work great.
1 cup of chickpeas. I use canned ones. I rinse off very well. But you can cook some from scratch (Its useful to soak the dry chickpeas overnight prior to cooking. Cooking take anything between 45 min- 2 hour)
3/4th cup of dried sour cherries. You can also Raisins, Prunes or any combination You can use fresh fruits. In that case go for 1 cup. No point trying to remove the piths for cherries. But I like the use of dry sour cherries
1 tsp of whole cumin
A pinch of chiili flakes. Optional
2 cups of chicken broth or water. Warm or at least at room temperature or warm 
1.5 tbsf olive oil.
Garnish with Parsley.

In a pot, heat oil. When oil is hot, reduce to medium low (spices burn at high heat). Add the cumin and chilli flakes. Toss in oil for a few secs till fragrant. Add the chickpeas (make sure they are well drained and dry). Toss in oil till well covered in spices. Add the sour cherries. Mix around. About 2 mins. Add the rice. Toss to coat with spices, oils, chickpeas and sour cherries. Carefully add the stock and water. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. After things come to a rolling boil, reduce to simmer, cover and cook till all water is absorbed. ~ 20 mins.

Serve warm or at room temperature with some some stuffed and roasted eggplant

A truly Turkish evening :)




Happy eating and healthy living!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Orange cake from a land so far away. They call it Morocco



There is a spring in the leaves. There is a waft in the breeze. Yes it is spring. 

I once was working at a little dock. Right by the small fishing village in this far off land .. I don't know....thirty forty years back? I was hired as a helping hand by a spice merchant. He was not a good best person to work for. He was stingy, dirty and he swindled his customers in every way he could. What made matters worse was at that time, I did not even understand the language very much. This place had a language of its own which was a mixture of some known and mostly unknown languages. The village wise man told me that people from all over the world came to here to trade. And the result was this unique language. The spice merchant would even cut my meager wages without notice! If I so much as dared to ask for an explanation, he would give me a look. Yes, a look so stern that made me laugh so hard. I don't think I have laughed half as hard ever.  It was a really piercing look that was almost comic :) If you did not know him, you may be even scared. But if you knew him, and kind of loved him, you could see through that look. It reflected the character of the land in which he sold his spices. 

It was a beautiful place. The ocean was as blue as the Mediterranean and the dessert was lurking there' it used to rain in the winter drenching the markets, the fruit stalls; people of all colors were always haggling trying to make a buck. So you see the place was rough and complex on the outside. Some would say even scary. But there was a tune underneath it all, that was lively and fragrant with the smell of saffron, mint, olives, lemon and oranges. He was a spice merchant in this land that was beautiful, diverse and in spring was ripe with oranges.

This days they call the place Morocco, I hear. I was told by the village wise man that indeed Morocco was derived from the word Marrakesh which in the old days meant 'far'. Yes this place was very far. 

But on a spring day in southern California, when the waft of oranges and mint and lemons are abundant in the air, I cannot but help  think of this beautiful land, so enchanting, inviting and yet so distant. 

Oh I didn't finish my story I see. So this merchant who smelt of spices would give me this look. Right. That's where we stopped. Oh no, we stopped where I laughed at his look. Age does that to you. Anyways, as I kept laughing, he would slowly and cautiously break into a laugh as well. Soon we would be in sync. Finally he would reach  into his dirty dirty vest, and bring out a crumbled piece of cloth and  give me the tiniest crumb of a cake. The likes of which I never had in my life. And I did have a great life with many a good cake from many a land, far and wide. He never told me who made this cake. I suspect he made it every morning. Because, now that I think of those days, he used to smell pretty cakey in the morning.

Anyways, the other day when it was starting to feel like spring, I got some big naval oranges, looked up a recipe of Moroccan orange cake online and found one in about.com. I tell you, it tasted exactly the one I thought I had from the spice merchant. After all maybe there was no real magic in that cake. Maybe all the magic was in the events that preludes the cake :)

Or maybe dreams are magical :) I can be only so accurate when I am dreaming so nice. 

Honestly... the best Orange cake I think you will ever have. I feel very confident that I will someday be able to say this story to my grandchildren and it will all be real. Morocco really comes from the Arabic word meaning far 

Here goes the recipe. You would do it with vegetable oil or olive oil. Its fragrant, takes 2 secs to put together and pleases everyone. Just vanishes :)

Moroccan Orange cake  
(http://moroccanfood.about.com/od/dessertsandcookies/r/orange_cake.htm)


Prep Time: 10 minutes; Cook Time: 40 minutes; Total Time: 50 minutes 

Ingredients:
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil. You can jolly well use olive oil. Gives an incredible flavor
  • 2 cups flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
  • zest from 1 or 2 oranges (Usually you can use two medium sized oranges for the zest and the juice)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
Preparation:
Preheat your oven to 350° F (180° C). Grease and flour a tube pan. If using fresh oranges, zest and juice them.
With an electric mixer or by hand, beat together the eggs and sugar until thick. Gradually beat in the oil.
Stir in the flour, baking powder and salt, and then the orange juice. Beat until smooth, and then mix in the zest and vanilla.
Pour the batter into your prepared pan, and bake for about 40 minutes, or until the cake tests done.
Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 7 to 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack to finish cooling.



Monday, March 19, 2012

Real Chicken Curry---in the oven!


Today's post is about a curry...in the oven. You heard right. A chicken curry, in the oven.

I am not so much a fan of the idea that any Indian food that features a mix of spices, with or without a gravy, is referred as a curry. Because it is simply not the case. Just as anything from China is not a stir-fry and all coffee drinks aren't cappuccino. I say this with fair bit of confidence, because I am from India, and I know for a fact that if you told anyone in India--at a restaurant or to a person-- that you wanted curry, there would be only one kind (with mild variations) that you would get! And it would be this recipe, that I am going to share in a short time. And no matter how hard you tried, you could not get anything else :) Different terms for different dishes.

For our curry, the trick will be of course be, (a) use of oven-which to my knowledge is an unheard of technique in the making of a curry, and (b) use of tomato paste. Tomato paste is an Italian import, mostly southern Italian. The tomato is sun dried and then made into a paste. Calabrians have some phenomenal use of tomato paste. For those of you who may not know, Calabria is a part of southern Italy which has some of the best uses of tomato and pepper and eggplant. The sun is abundant and the soil is perfect for tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. Some other day we would talk about sun drenched southern Italy. But today we are talking of a spicy curry from India. That too, the only authentic curry that you will find in India. With possible regional variations, of course. 

Amazing how a modern kitchen technique, an age old paste of Italian origin and spices from India can give you such a truly authentic curry. Back in the days, India was the destination for spices. Just the other day, I was reading up on all the voyages that were directed towards India in earlier centuries for spices like cumin, coriander, cinnamon, cloves and all things fragrant. So much risk, such long lonely voyages. Such distant land, cultures. All for spices. And if you are sitting at your desk with your coffee (as I am doing now), you may wonder what was all that allure.

I urge you to assemble this recipe and you will know why. Cumin, garlic, ginger, coriander, turmeric and tomato paste...all coming together in a cast iron skillet to give you a sense of what drove hordes of men across oceans and mountains to the east in search of spices that add to life to food. 

Thankfully nowadays we can get this done pretty much hassle free. 

Watch...err read :)

Chicken curry in an oven

A quick note: You can probably do this in the microwave. I am confident if you have a convection mode in the microwave or you know, just your regular OTG (oven-toaster-grill), this technique will work. Just use a  friendly vessel for where you do it. Of course this recipe is fine on a stove top. But the oven gives you a depth of flavor and its hands off too! well, largely

Okay enough Talk. On with the recipe

Ingredients:

Chicken: I used 6 thighs with bone in, skin removed. You can use a whole cut up chicken, drumsticks, whatever has a bone in it. 
1 big potato-- cut of coarsely. A small would be halved. A medium maybe quartered. You get the idea
1 medium sized onion. Chopped
1 tsp of freshly grated garlic
1 tsp of freshly grated ginger. Fresh is really important. You can use the ginger garlic paste. I urge you not to.
6-8 tbsf tomato paste. Half a small can. You can substitute with two tomatoes pureed and mixed with 2 tsp of ketchup. But tomato paste is heavily recommended
2 cups of chicken stock. Or warm water.

1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp turmeric
A pinch of cayenne. You can use it to taste. I like it mild.

I do not like the use of garam masala here. I find it way over powering and really the tomato paste packs a lot of flavor that is pretty much drowned by garam masala. But if you must, you can throw in 1/2 tsp of that as well.

3-4 tbsf oil. You can use any. Does not matter
salt and pepper
Cilantro for garnish.

These are the typical ingredients you will find in any curry. With the exception of tomato paste and maybe chicken stock. But the stock adds a ton of slow cooked flavor to this rather quick curry. Anyways, use a Cast Iron skillet. That will go into the oven and the stove top with ease and will also serve as a serving bowl. Its phenomenal and you should get one. Otherwise you can use a Dutch oven. Or a regular metal pot. Anything that you can use within the oven and on a stove top.

So turn your oven to high. 425-450 F. Preheat the oven with the skillet inside the oven. Yes, you are heating up the skillet in the oven. Takes about 10 min or so. Take out the skillet. Careful. Very hot. Put half the oil in it and place the chicken and potatoes on it. Try not to have a lot overlap. Drizzle with the remaining oil. Salt and pepper action. Mix around with tong. Stick into the oven for 20 min or so. Turn and again in for another 15 min. So totally about 45-50 min including the heating time.

When juices start to run clear, take out the skillet, turn on your stove and place the skillet on heat. Leave the oven running. On the skillet add the onions. Saute everything together for 3-4 min. Add the garlic-ginger and spices. Saute for a min or so. Now add the tomato paste. Mix everything well. Maybe a minute or two. De-glaze with the stock or water. Now comes a balancing act. Take the whole skillet and place it back into the oven. no mean feat taking a heavy skillet with liquids into the oven, but really do able by yourself. Leave at high temp for 15 min till everything is bubbly. Then, lower the oven temp o 350 F and finish cooking for 30-35 mins.

Take out, check for seasoning. Garnish with cilantro and serve with hot or warm with rice. One must have rice. Kidding. You can totally do with bread and some Merlot. I did and it was amazing! You can bring the skillet to the table. A very homey and rustic way of serving this simple fare.



How easy was that? no mess, no stress no traveling :) Just a good old real time chicken curry. But I tell ya, this one would be worth all that trouble of running around the world :)


Happy eating, healthy living!




Thursday, March 15, 2012

Join the Facebook Cooking club!



A quick announcement.

I have launched this exciting new Facebook cooking club. Less than five days old and so much going on.

Its an open group. An event coming up and so much pictures, talk and fun from across the world.

I would love my blogger frens to be o it!! So join the group and you will love it!!




Happy eating and healthy living!!




Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Roasted garlic-tomato pasta--southern Italian flavors that won't weigh you down



To all my five senses, there ain't a more appealing combination of colors than red and green and pasta. Oh yes, 'pasta' is a color. One that gives other colors a canvass to taste spectacular.




Well, before we get into this delightfully easy pasta recipe with roasted garlic and tomato,  I wanted to share with you a short-but-true-story. Sometime last year, wel..almost around nowish, I  invited a friend over for dinner. She said that she loved the way my food looked on-screen. So when she decided to visit Boston, I asked her if she wanted me to make something specific for her. She told me she completely relied on my choice. Very well. I decided to make pasta. I mean, what else? As I started to rinse some spinach, scrub the mushroom while starting the pasta water, my friend asked me in open and I think slightly irritated amazement, that where is the red or the white sauce? To which I said well we are going to make it, but it isn't gonna be red or white. It is going to be with wilted spinach, mushroom and anchovy. Her face fell, or so I thought. Clearly, she must have been thinking that this dinner was doomed. 

A pasta without a sauce. 

And really that is what today's and many of the pasta dishes that I make are themed on. Without rich sauces and yet distinctly flavorful. For some reason, I am not a big fan of rich pasta sauces. You know like the ones from northern or central Italy. I actually do not like rich sauces of any kind. Instead, I am deeply intrigued by the bright flavors of southern Italy...all the way down to Sicily. A combination of herbs, tomatoes, nuts and fishes that are not heavy but very fragrant, light and packed with flavors that need not weigh you down.  Almost reminiscent of the life along the Sicilian or Naples coast.

That day, after my friend had what she claimed was a spectacular pasta, she went home and made it herself. It was anchovy flavored wilted spinach and mushroom pasta. I guess the pasta did not weigh her down :)

Today's pasta is even simpler but no less gorgeous. And it will remind you of the careless and breezy beauty of life and tastes of the sunny southern Italian life that is a joy forever and luckily not a thing of the past.  

So, without much ado, I give you roasted garlic-tomato pasta with scallions. 

Ingredients are key here. Few but make sure you get the best ones. Cos when you are delaing with few ingredients, each must contribute fully and more.

3 pints of grape tomatoes for 1 lb of pasta. Washed and patted as dry as you can. Water will ruin the roasting process.
Grape tomatoes become sweet which is critical for this dish and any other recipe where you are using them. If you are using regular tomatoes coarsely chopped, add a sprinkle of sugar.
1 lb of pasta. 
I really like Linguini or fettuccine. But long strands of pasta are what you are aiming for.
5-7 cloves of garlic. Coarsely slivered. 
You can reduce the amount, if you don't like garlic. You can also substitute with slivered nuts. If you are using slivered nuts like almonds or walnuts, toast it over low flame for 5 min or so till they are fragrant. Take careful note of the fragrance. Just a hint of the fragrance and you want to take the nuts off the heat. You can of course use toasted nuts to garnish the pasta even if you are using garlic. But I like to educe the amount of garlic if in fact you are going to use the nuts at the end. But really beautiful is just the garlic and tomatoes. Really elegant and I urge you try it this way, before going for anything fancier
1 bunch of scallions. Chopped at an angle. All green and red green parts please. We practice 'waste-less-ness' here :)
Salt and Pepper 
2-3 tbsf extra virgin olive oil. Please use an excellent one. 

Roast and toss
Preheat oven to  350 F.
Place your tomatoes and slivered garlic on cast iron skillet. I really like to use cast iron, as it becomes easy to toss and serve the pasta in it and also prevents loss of any of the roasted fluid that forms. But feel free to use a baking tray if you don't have the skillet that I am talking about :) Season with slat and pepper and drizzle with 3 tbsf extra virgin olive oil. Roast undisturbed for 1 hr-15 to 1 hr- 20 mins. Turn once half way through. The garlic will turn brownish and sweet by the time the tomatoes burst. 

You can also roast the combo on a skillet on low heat for 15-20 min. Place your skillet on really low heat and add the tossed mixture of oil, tomato, garlic (and sugar if you are using it). Move around occasionally. But otherwise let roast in peace

Once the tomatoes are roasted, take it out of the oven and add the scallions. The heat will take off the rawness out of the scallions. If you are using a cast iron skillet, there is not much to do then wait for the pasta to cook. If you are using the baking tray, carefully dish the whole concoction onto ta pasta serving tray/bowl. This is what it will look like.


Meanwhile fill up a big pot with water. Cover and bring to boil. Season with salt. Bring back to a rolling boil. Do not..never add pasta before this step. You will just about kill pasta this way. Anyways, once you have the salted water back to the rolling boil, add the pasta carefully and slowly mix it in. Cook till al dente or almost done. Usually 10 mins or close. Retain a cup of the pasta water. Drain carefully and return the pasta to the skillet or wherever you are serving. Toss carefully and caressingly. Use the pasta water if you see things drying. You want a glisten on the pasta. Moist looking and not dry or dull.

Serve in the skillet...what is a very appealingly homey and rustic way to serve. Or the elegant pasta dish. Eat immediately. I suggest pairing with a Sirah wine. But of course any dry red wine would be gorgeous.

A very legit recipe. Remindful of the life, thankfully not-yet-bygone, by the coasts of Naples all the way down to Sicily.

Happy eating and healthy living

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Two in one--use of cilantro/parsley stems in two gourmet indian vegetarian recipes.


I have a solution. Not that there was a real problem here. But I think I have a solution to an yet un-recognised problem :)

And here is where I think we may have the problem. Somehow the way we use herbs bothered me. We take the leaves and discard the woody parts. And whenever I threw away the stems of herbs--particularly cilantro, coriander, Dill stems that are not that woody at all--I always thought if I could somehow use these. To me this was terrible loss of flavor. On the other hand it was really impossible for me to conjure up images of us gnawing at woodisque (that's a new word!) stems in dish if you just add the stems along with the leaves towards the end of a dish. Worse for garnishes.

 Photo from http://www.klesickfamilyfarm.com

I think I have a solution finally. For soft stem herbs like Cilantro, Coriander, Dill etc, the stems can add a whole world of flavor if used like onion or garlic or ginger i.e. soften the diced stems in hot oil as you would do for example in case of onion or garlic or ginger. This process releases all the flavor that is packed in the stems while softening it and thus making it edible. The other way would be to use it as a veggie. You heard right. Veggie. For example, if you were making a stew you would add the potatoes, followed by the carrots and then whatever. So just throw in your stems before you even put the hardiest of your veggie in. The result is a dramatic flavoring from the beginning of the recipe. Of course you don't want to use woody stems of rosemary or thyme or even the really hardy parsley. But for the softer ones, you don't want to throw away the goodness that you usually do.

I have been practicing this method for a couple of months now. And I feel comfortable going out on a limb to share this technique. I give you two recipes. Both Indian. Using Cilantro stems. But once you get the hang of the method (and I will be sharing more such recipes with stems), you will find use for them in your stews, stir fries and what not. Hello! you got double duty for your buck!

As I said, there are two recipes here today. One is a stir fried Bokchoy with tomatoes and mustard. Such a great little southern Indian recipe, even without the stems. The second is cabbage potato mush and is a take on a very common household cabbage dish from eastern India. I think you will love both. Adding in the stems at the beginning makes both of these recipes exceptional and very bright. Try it and you will not regret it. 

So here we go!

Sir fried bokchoy with Mustard Cilantro and Tomatoes
Ingredients:
Three baby Bokchoys. Cleaned and diced coarsely. You can also use cauliflower, broccoli or cabbage here.
2 small tomatoes. Diced.
Cilantro: stems-- A handful of them, cleaned and diced finely. You really want to do this :)
               Leaves-- chopped for garnish
You can also use Parsley if you do not like Cilantro. I love both!
2 green chiles. Slit and seeds removed. You can use one jalapeno too.
Curry leaves--4-5. dice it or not. You can find it in Indian groceries. Very optional. But it does add a very southern Indian flavor, which is gorgeous
1 tsp of whole mustard
2 tbsf olive oil or regular oil
salt for seasoning

All you do is heat oil in a large skillet (you want to hold all those greens in there, so be careful with your skillet size). Once oil is hot, add the mustard, cilantro stems, green chiles and tomato. Stir fry for 5-6 min. You want the tomatoes to start breaking down and mixing up to a saucy consistency. Add the Bokchoys. Stir and cook through ~ 7-8 mins. Season with salt. Take off the heat, plate up, garnish with your cilantro leaves and serve hot. With some Rice and soup. A great meal. I promise you this much


The second one is Cabbage potato Mush
Ingredients:
One small cabbage. Use the regular ones or Napa ones. Whatever floats your boat. Cleaned and diced coarsely. You can also use cauliflower, broccoli or bokchoy here. 
1 medium potato. Diced. Ensures quick cooking and to make a mush
2 small tomatoes. Diced.
Cilantro: stems-- A handful of them, cleaned and diced finely.
               Leaves-- chopped for garnish
You can also use Parsley if you do not like Cilantro. I love both!
2 green chiles. Slit and seeds removed. You can use one jalapeno too.

1 tsp of whole cumin
1 tsp of coriander powder
1 tsp of cumin powder
1/2 tsp of turmeric
1/2 tsp of sugar.
1 cup of warm water. Keep handy to moisten things as needed
2 tbsf olive oil or regular oil
salt for seasoning

All you do is heat oil in a large skillet (again you want to hold all those greens in there, so be careful with your skillet size). Once oil is hot, add the potatoes and cook covered for 10 min. Check to see that you are not burning your potatoes. Add cumin, cilantro stems, green chiles, tomato and sugar. Stir fry for 5-6 min. You want the tomatoes to start breaking down and mixing up to a saucy consistency. The sugar will caramelize and give a gorgeous flavor. Add the coriander, cumin, turmeric powder. Cook for a minute or so.  At this point you have a lovely sauce and you can put any veggie in there. Here we will go with cabbage. Add the cabbage. Stir  and cook through. ~ 10 mins. Covering the skillet or pot hastens the process. You may need to add water to prevent sticking. Usually though you wont need a lot of water. Season with salt. Take off the heat, plate up, garnish with your cilantro leaves and serve warm or at room temperature.



It is a really nice and gourmet dish. The smokey cumin, the bright coriander and cilantro is a cure for any damp night. 

Happy eating and healthy living!