Category Archives: India

Green Tomato & Dal Stew

In my produce box this week I ordered 4 green tomatoes, an ingredient I have eaten but never cooked with.  Searched around the internet, and I found the results of a green tomato recipe contest on the blog http://www.thekitchn.com, for Roopa’s Green Tomato and Lentil Stew (aka: Thakali Masiyal).

I pretty much followed the recipe on this page exactly, except that I didn’t have toor dal (yellow split peas), but I had chana dal (split small black chickpeas that look very similar!).  So I substituted the chana dal which just had to be cooked a bit longer until tender (more like 45 minutes for that first step). After the dal was tender, I added the tomatoes plus one long green chile and one jalapeno for a little kick.

green tomatoes

I used two of the green tomatoes, one had a blush of pink in it, and then added some riper cherry tomatoes for the last 1/2 cup or so needed for this recipe. The dish looked pretty pale and non-descript at that point, but after stewing for a longer time and adding the tamarind and spices, I ended up with an appetizing stew – about 3 servings using this recipe.

Thakali Masiyal

The green tomatoes and tamarind make this a sour/tangy dish, but also very good without being ultra-spicy.  I found some papadam in my pantry, so I cooked up a couple of those to eat with the stew and it was nice to have the crunch and pepper flavor to balance the stew.  Overall a nice dish and very simple to make.

I still have 2 more green tomatoes, and may try grilling them with this recipe from Southern Living – http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/grilled-green-tomatoes-caprese-50400000113392/

 

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Vimila’s Curryblossom Cafe

If you’re in the Triangle and haven’t been to Vimila’s Curryblossom Cafe in Chapel Hill – you’re missing out!  Delicious and healthy Indian food made with local and fresh ingredients.  I was there for a librarian networking event a few weeks ago, and didn’t have a camera with me – but the food was wonderful. I had a couple of samosas that were light and flaky, served over chana masala (chickpeas). Although I enjoyed my meal, I also experienced some envy of my neighbors’ choices – so I know I need to get back there and try some more things!

With my meal, I ordered the ‘house tea’. This was a fragrant hot tea with the tang and redness of hibiscus and freshness of mint. I liked it so much that I asked if the restaurant would sell the tea mix to take home.  With the gracious hospitality of a local restaurant, the manager made me up a pint to-go container and sold it to me. Isn’t it beautiful?

vimila's tea

It’s basically an equal 3-part mix of hibiscus flowers, lavender blossoms, and mint leaves. I’ve made a few cups-full at home, not only is it a relaxing drink, but it makes the whole room smell wonderful at the same time.

Tofu Keema

I ran across this recipe as I was searching the other day – preparing to teach a small class of folks from my church about different ways to cook with tofu. Since I was looking for unique tofu cooking methods, this one for tofu keema caught my attention from allrecipes.com 

Prior to preparing the dish, the block of tofu is frozen, thawed and then crumbled (the recipe says “minced” – but it looks basically crumbled in the photo so that’s what I did). Prepared this way, it tastes and acts a lot like scrambled eggs.

After the advance preparation of the tofu, this is an easy-to-prepare vegetarian dish, and very tasty. I’d recommend squeezing the tofu block after it is thawed to remove some of the liquid. I’d also recommend using a non-stick pot or deep pan to cook this dish, the tofu started sticking to my saute pan (again like scrambled eggs!) towards the end of cooking. The amount of jalapeno pepper can be varied depending on how hot you like your meal, and I added that pepper along with the tomatoes rather than at the end since I preferred to have it fully cooked and blended into the dish. Eating it with a bit of yogurt or raita will help temper the spice as well.

Most of all, make sure you use a good curry powder with a blend of spices that smells really good to you. Most Indian cooks don’t even have “curry powder” in their kitchens, but add portions of each individual spice according to the requirements of the dish and their own tastes. Curry powders that you buy in the store are blends of those spices and can vary greatly in their content and taste.

Lentil Coconut Dhal

We have a finger food potluck tomorrow at my church, so I picked up some sesame pita from the new N. Raleigh Neomonde (so happy to have a Neomonde location close to my house!!).  I had seen a recipe for a lemon and coconut-flavored lentil dhal that I wanted to try, and I think this will make a nice pita dip.

Spicy Lentil Coconut Dhal
2 Tbsp. minced fresh ginger root
1 1/2 onions, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
1 1/2 tsp. cumin seeds

Saute all of the above together in about 2 Tbsp. canola oil over medium heat until onion is translucent but not browned.

1 1/3 c. red lentils
2 c. water
1 Tbsp. red curry paste (cut back on this for a less spicy dish)
1 c. coconut cream

Add lentils, water and curry paste. Stir well, bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally for about 15 minutes. Lentils should be just tender. Add coconut cream and stir, continue to simmer another 15 minutes until mixture is thick.

1/4 c. lemon juice
1/4 c. cilantro, chopped
1/3 c. sliced almonds, lightly toasted

Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice, cilantro and almonds. Reserve a few almonds and pieces of cilantro for garnish. You can also garnish with a drizzle of coconut cream. Serve as a dip or spread with bread or pita, or as a side dish. Serve warm or at room temp.

Mooli Paratha

My friend Garima’s parents are visiting from India, and I was very excited to get an invitation to cook with her mother this week! Garima and I used to work together, and we still get together occasionally to cook and bake, and to watch Hindi movies at the Galaxy theater. A few times, I have taught her to bake something, but mostly she teaches me to cook Indian dishes. 

This time, the lesson was mooli paratha, shown here. If you’ve eaten at Indian restaurants, you may know that paratha is a type of filled flatbread. It can be filled with different vegetables – in fact Garima and I made cauliflower paratha in a previous session. But for this meal, we filled them with mooli, or daikon radish. I had previously run into the daikon radish mainly in Asian cuisine, particularly Japanese and Korean cooking. I didn’t know until now that it is also grown and used as an ingredient in India. It’s a long white radish, often with just a tinge of green at the top where it has been exposed to the sun above the soil.

This recipe is fairly time-intensive, but the end result was very worth it! The first step is to peel and shred the mooli for the filling.

Next, Garima squeezed the juice from the radish into another bowl. Be careful with this step, the radish juice can be irritating to sensitive  or chapped skin (as we found out the hard way!). This radish juice was then used to make the dough, while the squeeze-dried radish was cooked for the filling.

To make the filling, the shredded radish was sauteed with anise seed, finely minced green chiles, ground red pepper, asafetida, and salt. This was stir-fried for about 5 minutes until well-mixed and slightly softened. The filling was removed from the heat, and chopped cilantro was stirred in. The filling was then spread out on a larger plate to cool quickly before filling the paratha.

The dough, which you can see in the larger square container above, was made from an Indian whole wheat flour called atta, which is much lighter than our typical whole wheat flour. You should be able to find this in any Indian grocery store, it looks similar to semolina in color, and I imagine if you tell someone you’re making paratha they’ll be able to point you in the right direction.

Unfortunately, I can’t really give you the amounts because this is one of those recipes that is done by feel, until it’s “right”….  But basically, Garima’s mom made the dough by mixing together the atta flour with a large pinch of salt, and adding strained radish juice, plus water as needed, to achieve the appropriate dough texture. She kneaded the dough for a minute or two in the bowl and set it aside to rest briefly until the filling was ready. It was stiff enough to knead, but very soft dough – one of those things that you have to try until you figure out the perfect consistency, I’m afraid! But it seems from our discussion that the softer the dough is, the better it will actually work in this recipe, stiffer dough might tear more easily rather than stretching to accomodate the filling.

She oiled her fingers a bit to grab off a small piece of dough, so that it wouldn’t stick. The dough was then worked into a small disc, dipping it in extra atta flour as needed to work it and then roll it into a circle about 5-6 inches in diameter. A large spoonful of the filling was placed in the middle as shown above, and then the edges all brought together above to seal in the filling (shown below).

This is the really tricky part, because then you need to roll the filled dough ball out into a thin paratha, more like 8 inches diameter, preferably without breaking through the dough and letting the filling spill out. I had tried this with the cauliflower paratha and knew that I’d make a mess of it, so I left that to the experts [plus, I was too busy eating the delicious paratha as they came off the griddle!]

The flattened, filled paratha is fried on one side on a griddle. After flipping to the second side, either vegetable oil, or ghee (clarified butter) is lightly spread on the top with the back of a spoon. This motion makes it puff up like this, if you’re an expert paratha maker, anyway…  And that’s how you make mooli paratha.

Now for how you EAT mooli paratha, I became an expert on that after eating my 4 for the evening :)  We made a simple raita of yogurt, toasted and coarsely ground cumin seeds, and black salt (you can use regular salt, but black salt has a unique sulfurous flavor that’s recommended if you can get it).

The paratha are eaten with the fingers, tearing off a small piece and eating it with this raita, tamarind chutney, and other spicy additions like spicy mango pickles or hot sauce. Delicious! It was a great evening of cooking, eating and chatting, as a couple of other folks dropped in to help eat the mooli paratha. I’m already looking forward to the return trip of Garima’s mom in March so we can cook again!

Forced Food Fusion

We can all agree that the practices of colonization and slavery are not something to be proud of. However, some interesting fusion recipes have come out of those cultural mergers through the years. For instance, many traditional foods from the southern U.S. are based on ingredients and cooking styles brought over from West Africa by the slaves. When two different cultures are tied together that tightly you can’t help but start to adapt some of the ‘other’, and it can make for some delightful combinations. [Hey, I’m trying to look for the silver lining here, not by any means justifying ANY of that horrible history!]

Take kedgeree, for example. Historians (at least those writing wikipedia articles…) don’t seem to be sure if it originated in India and was taken back to the UK, or visa versa. I didn’t have time to fully research this, so if others of you have insights, let me know – I’m very curious.  However it happened, it’s delicous! Here’s the dish as I had it for the first time in Philadelphia this summer – curried rice and vegetables and smoked fish, served with hardboiled eggs and Greek yogurt.

My first attempt at making kedgeree was this weekend. Unfortunately I don’t have an exact recipe to share with you – I skimmed a bunch of web recipes and then proceeded to make it up as I cooked…  so I won’t claim authenticity. Here’s the basic recipe I followed;

1) Saute onion, cumin seeds and green Anaheim chiles in generous amount of canola oil until translucent (plus I would have added celery if I had some on hand).

2) Add dry basmati rice and sprinkle generously with curry powder, saute for another minute or two, stirring constantly. I also added some ground cumin and a dash of ginger, just because. Oh, and a sprinkle of salt at this point too.

3) Add the amount of water needed to cook the rice, stir well, cover and simmer for 15 minutes or so. This is likely where you’d also add some tomato and spinach.

4) When the liquid is almost absorbed, stir in frozen peas and cover to finish cooking. Taste and add more salt and black pepper if needed. I stirred in some flaked smoked salmon and topped with a hard boiled egg. Some recipes have you stir in a bit of cream at the end, but I didn’t want the extra fat.

And here’s how mine turned out, not bad!

I had forgotten about the tomato and spinach in the one I tasted in Philadelphia, but it’s pretty good even with just peas and onion. When I make this again, I’ll definitely add the celery and other veggies, and probably also cook the smoked salmon with the rice rather than just sprinkling on top. I’m sure it would also be good with green beans or squash.

Just so you know that I didn’t stray completely off the path from the International Festival cookbook plan, I was reminded that I wanted to try making kedgeree after I saw a recipe in our cookbook for Scottish Cauliflower Salad – which also involves curry. It threw me for a loop briefly, but then I remembered some of the history of how curry came to the UK.

In this salad, cauliflower is thinly sliced, along with carrots, green onions and parsley. The vegetables are tossed with a simple oil and vinegar dressing made with some curry powder. Let the salad sit for at least an hour to soak up the flavors, then serve.

“Retrospective”, or hodge-podge month

You may have noticed that my calendar of cuisines says “6-month retrospective” for April.  I guess I should probably explain that. March was my sixth month of this cooking project, and I’ve learned a LOT and cooked a lot of good foods during that time.  I spend a good bit of time each month reading about each culture so that I can write somewhat knowledgeably about the food and recipes, and so that I can start to understand the evolution of the cuisine and any regional differences within the country.  Though I really enjoy doing that background work, it does take a lot of time each month! So April seems a logical time to take a month off.

By ‘taking a month off’, I don’t mean I’m going to stop cooking and writing, because there are plenty of topics I’ve been wanting to share about. First, almost every country I’ve tackled had a few dishes that I identified, but didn’t get around to making. I’ve also observed some interesting similarities between countries, like the fact every country has some form of stuffed pepper recipe. I’ve been learning about a recent trend (not so new really) called “mindful eating”. Finally, I’m putting together a new edition of the cookbook for the Raleigh International Festival, and I might want to try a couple of recipes from that collection as I’m typing them up. So the month’s posts will be all over the place, but hopefully still interesting and informative – I hope you’ll stick with me until we’re back on a regular schedule in May with Thai food.

Today’s recipe is Indian Chickpeas, brought to you from the Raleigh Mennonite Church Cookbook. We are having a potluck tomorrow at church, and everyone has been asked to choose a recipe from the church cookbook. This simple and tasty Indian Chickpeas recipe was submitted by Sylvia with a note that she learned how to make them from her friend Anuj, who is from Bombay. I adjusted the recipe to use canned tomatoes (easier and cheaper) and raw potato, which means a bit longer cooking but all in one pot (rather than using pre-cooked potato).

Indian Chickpeas
1 large onion, diced
1/2 tsp. whole cumin seeds
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. garam masala
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2-1 tsp. salt, to taste
1 can diced tomatoes
2 cans chickpeas, drained & rinsed
1 large or 2 small potatoes, peeled and diced
1 tsp. lemon juice

Heat oil in a large pot, add cumin seeds and cook until they’re bubbling, browned and fragrant. Add onion and stir to saute until translucent. Add remaining spices and salt, and stir briefly, then add tomatoes with their juice, chickpeas and potatoes. (If you don’t like things very spicy, you might cut back on the cayenne pepper by half.) Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until potato is tender. Add lemon juice just before serving. Serve with bread or rice.