Category Archives: Entree
I’ve often been asked why I chose into food blogging with a niche idea of redesigning and tweaking Indian dishes instead of plunging full fledged into classic recipes that I had grown up with. I had serendipitous stumble upon the best possible answer I’ll probably ever get, thanks to Chef Marcus Samuelsson’s new memoir ‘Yes Chef’.
There was one paragraph that practically leaped out of the book searing itself into my mind :
“ Who lied? Who started the lie that France had the greatest food in the world? That question ran through my head every time I bit into something new and that changed my notions of what “good food” is. Then that question was replaced by a second: Who’s going to make the people realize that food dismissed as “ethnic” by the fine-dining world could be produced at the same level as their sacred bouillabaisses and veloutes” – Marcus Samuelsson, Yes, Chef!
I could not ask for a better validation beyond this paragraph. In time, I’ve come to realize that my kitchen truly represents ‘Panfusine’ a space where spices & ingredients from all over the world are crammed next to each other, giving me the absolute freedom to pick and choose, without the limitations that cultural biases impose. This freedom has also given me an increased appreciation for the classic dishes and ingredients I grew up with, whether it is to lovingly prepare a ‘Pongal’ the traditional slow cooked way (albeit in a Le Creuset Risotto pan), savoring the burst of aroma emitted by the crushed curry leaves, ginger, Cumin & Pepper tempered in ghee, or savor the musky heady aroma emanating from an old box that I use to store my blocks of asafetida.
Speaking of asafetida, One of the most spectacular dishes I’ve seen this pungent spice used in was in a pineapple salsa, Ammini Ramachandran’s recipe in Zester Daily. Simply follow the link and give this a try, you’ll love it!
|Sweet & Spicy Pineapple Salsa|
The only hitch most people have with pineapples is the prepping. The cutting through the scaly peel and then scooping out all the ‘eyes’. Well, discovered that OXO has an answer to that. A nifty ratcheting pineapple slicer, As someone who loves prepping difficult fruits, I was initially skeptical about how this implement was going to take care of peeling, coring AND slicing in one shot, but believe me, it does, and beautifully so.
and if you still want further proof, just watch the video!
I deliberately kept the vegetable list confined to peas, in order to keep the dish simple.
- Add the cooked rice into a large mixing bowl and fluff to separate the grains.
- In a skillet, heat the ghee until almost smoking and add the Cumin, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon and bay leaf.
- When the Cumin seeds split, add the garlic and saute until it turns limp (you may choose to remove the garlic if you want a milder flavor at this point or let it be for a more pronounced garlic flavor).
- Turn the heat to medium low and introduce the Berbere spice blend to this mixture. allow the blend to ‘bloom’ in the oil until the aroma is released.
- Add the peas along with the salt, cover and cook on low until the peas are soft.
- Remove from heat and add this mix to the rice.
- Fold gently from the edges of the bowl to the center, taking care to coat each grain.
- Garnish with chopped Dill or cilantro and serve along with the Pineapple Salsa and toasted Papad.
Yes, I was supposed to post a recipe for Valentines day, but that didn’t happen. Not because of the lack of trying, but simply because the truffles that I had planned on making was headed for the dud recipe files even before the filling cooled. The initial plan was to make some scented truffles with a white chocolate center and into a saucepan went 2 bars of good white chocolate (NOT the fake white chocolate morsels that Ghirardelli is being hauled to court for), 1/4 cup heavy cream… melted beautifully, extra aroma added via 2 pods worth of crushed cardamom and one star anise.. mmm (the kitchen was beginning to smell great) until the addition of 2 teaspoons of that classic brand of Indian herbal sharbat – Rooh Afza.
It was as if the world completely did a turn around.. A synthetic aroma of ‘natural flavors’ suffused the kitchen and …. as Forest Gump would say ‘and that was the end of that’. The resulting color , it reminded me of that denture fixing compound that is supposed to match those of your gums. ‘Nuff said!
So here I was .. No recipe, no post, and no Valentine either (the other half is in India right now). Perfect opportunity for baking a carb loaded bread for the ‘We knead to bake’ post that follows this this one.
Aparna Balasubramanian’s recipe for croissants was simply perfect, and I just had to share this. Took some of the pastries over to my friends place and stayed over for a casual dinner. She had made a delicious healthy Quinoa pilaf paired with cucumber tsatziki, that simply bowled me over. As she was describing the recipe, all I could retain in my head was quinoa, caramelized onions, and curry powder. (was too engrossed in enjoying every forkful).
The key ingredient in this dish is the Curry powder. As much as many puritan Indian cooks disown this ‘mutt’ of a spice blend, it can and does come in handy for many a dish. So despite any misgivings, go ahead & buy yourself a small jar.
I also had a bunch of uber fresh green from baby beets that were simply asking to be cooked, so sauteed them separately with a clove of garlic and a handful of walnuts thrown in.
Quinoa Pilaf with curry powder. (recipe credit: Jyoti Ananth)
1 cup Quinoa
2 cups water
1 large onion, halved & thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper finely chopped
1 green bell pepper , finely chopped
1 – 1.5 teaspoon curry powder
1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/4- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne chile powder OR paprika (as per taste)
salt to taste
2 -4 tablespoons olive oil (depends upon how crispy & caramelized you want the onions)
Cilantro for garnish.
Lemon wedges for serving.
Bring the 2 cups of water to a boil. In the meantime, rinse the quinoa several times and add it to the water. Lower the heat and cover the pan. Cook for 10 – 12 minutes until the water is absorbed and the seeds have sprouted a tail. Cover and set aside.
Heat the oil in a wide pan and add the onions. Saute on low heat and allow the onion to turn a light brown. Add the peppers at this point along with the turmeric, cayenne and curry powder. once the peppers wilt add salt as per your preference (remember, you need to account for the quinoa as well).
Cook down until most of the water from the peppers have evaporated and then add the cooked quinoa. Fold gently to combine the vegetables. Taste and adjust for seasoning. Garnish with cilantro Serve warm with a side of Raita, tsatziki, or plain sour cream. Spritz some lemon juice if you prefer.
Sauteed Green beets: (optional, but it paired very well with the Quinoa)
Fresh greens from 3 beets
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 handful of broken walnut pieces
salt & cracked pepper to taste
Wash the greens, cut off the stems, and pat it dry. Stack the leaves and roll into a ‘cigar’. Using a sharp knife, cut the leaves into a fine chiffonade. Heat oil in a skillet and add the crushed garlic. Once the clove releases its aroma, add the walnuts and allow them to toast lightly . Add the greens ad saute until the leaves have wilted. grind some pepper and salt over the greens and remove the greens from the heat. Serve alongside the quinoa pilaf.
One of the oft repeated dishes at home has been a Rajasthani variation of a chickpea curry, using the smaller brown Bengal chickpeas. This variety of chickpea is smaller than the Mediterranean one with a brown skin that adds a lovely texture to the finished dish.
The recipe for Jaisalmer chana as the dish is referred to is a classic one with multiple variations of spice combinations. The constant ingredients however, are the brown chickpeas, and the gravy consisiting of a yogurt and chickpea flour (Besan) blend. I’ve deliberately worked my way through 3 different recipes in a search for my favorite. Recipes from Chef Sanjeev Kapoor, an old recipe book by Nita Mehta and the third by Tarla Dalal. Nita Mehta’s recipe is delicious, but calls for a detailed list of dry whole spices that one may not have on hand every time. Tarla Dalal’s recipe is a total disaster. Yes, I know I’m being blunt and may invite harsh comments and protests, but unfortunately the ingredient list is heavy on Chili peppers in 3 forms. (green chili ground to a paste with ginger, dried red chiles in the tempering (although these are the kashmiri chiles) and finally in the form of cayenne chili powder). While I pride myself of being capable of a high tolerance for chili pepper heat, her variation has no sense of balance with other spices. The finished product was rather inedible, despite using my discretion about the chili (I halved the amount), with no real sense of an integrated flavor profile.
Ultimately, I have to defer to Chef Sanjeev Kapoor’s recipe for being the optimal version, given its choice of easily available ingredients and that crucial ‘lip smacking’ factor. I did take the liberty of adjusting the heat to accommodate kiddie palates and slightly varied the cooking technique.
Jaisalmeri Chana (recipe by Chef Sanjeev Kapoor)
|1 cup Black Bengal gram (kala chana), soaked overnight|
|1 cup Yogurt|
|2 tablespoons Gram flour (besan)|
|1/4 teaspoon Turmeric powder|
|Salt to taste|
|1/2 Red chilli powder (adjust to taste)|
|2 teaspoons fresh crushed Coriander (lightly broken into halves)|
|1 teaspoon Garam masala powder|
|1 -2 Green chillies, minced|
|2 tablespoons ghee+ 2 tablespoons olive oil|
|1 pinch Asafoetida|
|1 teaspoon Cumin seeds|
|Fresh cilantro leaves,chopped for garnish|
Cook the soaked chickpeas in adequate water until soft, but not mushy. set aside , reserving the cooking liquid.
Whisk the yogurt with the chickpea flour, chili powder, and turmeric.
Heat the oil and ghee in a skillet and add the cumin seeds when the oil begins smoking. Once the cumin sputters, lower the heat and add the crushed coriander, garam masala, asafetida and the green chile. stir and allow the spices to bloom.
Add the chickpeas along with the cooking liquid and salt. Cover and simmer until the flavors have blended.
Add the yogurt blend to the chickpeas and cook on a low heat until the mixture barely begins to simmer gently (you do NOT want to allow the gravy to boil).
Remove from heat, transfer to a serving dish and garnish with cilantro. Serve warm with Roti or plain rice.
After a perfect meal with a choice of your favorite dishes, have you ever felt so satisfied that you could (almost) give away your wealth & precious possessions? I think this could fall under that oft shared slide of wisdom from the social networking sites.. “Never speak when you are angry, never promise when you’re happy, never decide when you’re sad.” and food definitely falls plumb into the second category. There is something so lulling about certain dishes that are categorized under the umbrella term ‘Comfort food’ and its usually the stuff that one grew up with.
And then… there comes a point in time when the geographical origins of the food slowly begin to fade away, much like a soft sidewalk chalk drawn line getting erased by footsteps, early morning dew and the occasional downpour. It is indeed a wonderful state of being when certain foods begin to tickle your tastebuds, (my metaphorical, Victorian way of describing a ‘pavlovian response’), and even as you lovingly tuck into these, you forget, and do not care at all, about where the dish came from.. Now if only people could adopt that attitude for their fellow human beings, irrespective of their caste, creed, gender & orientation… (but then politicians would be out of business then, wouldn’t they?)
Here are a couple of my favorite comfort foods, from my native Tam-Bram community & beyond!
|Fresh Chickpea Sundal|
Chickpea Sundal: A comfort food that is instantly identified with Marina Beach in Chennai. This is an uber healthy light dish to nosh on, Steamed Green garbanzo, seasoned with a tempering of Mustard, curry leaves and the obligatory arbol chile. Finely chopped green raw mangoes and a sprinkling of fresh coconut confer an incomparable addictive ‘Je ne sais quoi’ factor.
|Rajma (& Rajma Chawal )|
Rajma: Its hard to comprehend that red kidney beans were not really native to Indian Cuisine. One of the flagship dishes of Punjabi cuisine, a warm bowl of this dish with fragrant Basmati rice can really make you feel like all is well with the world. When that feeling fades the next morning, simply reheat the leftovers and eat. This dish tastes better the next day!
Which brings me to this weeks recipe.. I have to admit, I’ve taken it easy this summer, taking time off to smell the more familiar comfort foods without incessantly trying to ‘Panfusine’ them. The summer bounty of fresh picked vegetables from the backyard & the neighboring farm… Perfect for a comforting bowl of Ratatouille, & not the Thomas Keller Confit Byaldi variety. (& yes, I’ve done that with the traditional Avial, it was one of my earliest Panfusine dishes)
Touiller in French is ‘to toss’ and it never ceases to amaze me how a simple mix of vegetable could yield such flavor! SO here it is, Ratatouille flavored with Harissa (well, I couldn’t possibly ignore my wandering imagination completely now, could I?? All the vegetables used in the dish were either grown at home (the eggplant.. & yes this very same specimen was cooked up!)
|This beautiful specimen was perfect in the dish!|
or from my local Hillsboro Farm in New Jersey..
|These sweetish Purple tomatoes were perfect for the dish, the green ones were not used!|
What are your personal comfort foods?
Harissa Flavored Ratatouille :
(inspired by & adapted from Alice Water’s recipe for Ratatouille)
2 medium Sweet onions diced
1 clove garlic, minced or finely chopped
2 golden zucchini,diced
2 medium tender eggplants, diced
1 green pepper, diced
1 pint (~ 2 cups) cherry tomatoes, quartered
3 -4 sprigs rosemary
1 teaspoon Harissa powdered spice blend
4 tablespoons Olive oil
Salt to taste
Heat 2 tablespoons of the Olive oil In a heavy bottomed Cast Iron pan and add the eggplant. Saute until the vegetable is soft and begins to stick to the bottom of the pan. Remove from pan and set aside.
Add the remaining oil and saute the garlic. once it gets soft, add the onions and saute until they turn translucent.
Add the Peppers along with the Rosemary & Harissa, saute for about 5 minutes and then add the golden zucchini, the partially cooked eggplants and the tomatoes. Season with salt, cover and cook on a medium-low heat until the vegetables are soft (about 15 minutes). Remove the rosemary sprigs before serving.
Transfer to a serving dish and serve with Pasta or just plain fresh crusty French bread.
Its been a bountiful summer, in that every week I manage to get a couple of food sessions done with veggies picked from my own back yard. This week it was half a dozen decent sized tomatoes. The thing with such personal experiences with produce, is that you want to ensure that they are used in dishes that are specially created. In a sense thanking them for the priceless opportunity of sampling food at its sun kissed best.
These tomatoes found their way into a dish that in all fairness, is in search of a better name. You see,
I happen to belong to the foodie camp that cringes at hearing terms like ‘Chai Tea’ and ‘Paneer cheese’. Pleonasms, as they are called, refers to redundant words paired together, such as ‘join together’ or ‘exact same’.
So here I was with a recipe idea that seemed quite deliciously possible and ingredients to match, – organic tomatoes from the backyard, Organic Tofu from Whole Foods Market in Princeton . Frozen edamame pods from Trader Joes. and no proper name to give it. As a place holder, I’ve christened it Pleonasmic Edamame Tofu until I can think of something better.I’m not sure if I’ve give it an A+ in the novelty rankings, but its definitely a keeper of a recipe.
Pleonasmic Edamame Tofu:
For the Masala Paste:
- 1 large white onion (about 1 cup chopped)
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2 inch piece ginger, chopped
- 2 tablespoons coriander seeds
- 3 teaspoons cumin seeds
- 4-5 whole pods cardamom
- 6-7 cloves
- 1 inch piece of cassia bark cinnamon (yet another pleonasm??)
- 6-9 black peppercorns
- 2 teaspoons dry mango powder or sumac
- 1 Serrano chile chopped
- 1 packet extra firm Tofu
- Cayenne chili powder to taste
- 1/4 + 1/4 teaspoon Turmeric powder (total 1/2 teaspoon)
- 3 cups boiled and peeled green edamame
- 6 ripe tomatoes, finely chopped
- Salt to taste
- 2 + 3 tablespoons Olive oil (total 5 tablespoon)
- 1 cup water or vegetable stock
- 1/4 cup Yogurt
- 2 tablespoons Heavy cream
- Chopped cilantro for garnish
Combine all the ingredients for the masala paste and blend into a smooth paste using as little water as possible.
Drain the water from the tofu and pat dry completely using paper towels. Cut into 1/2 inch cubes and combine with 2 tablespoon oil, 1/4 teaspoon turmeric, salt (as per your taste, ~ 1/2 teaspoon) and Cayenne chile powder. Set aside to marinade for about 1 hour.
Heat the remaining oil in a skillet and add the masala paste. Cook on a low heat until any water completely evaporates. Now add the chopped tomatoes along with the remaining turmeric. Cook down to a thick paste.
Add the edamame to the tomato mixture, adjust for salt. Add the water / stock and cover. Simmer on a low flame while you prepare the tofu.
In a non stick skillet, add the cubed tofu in 2 or 3 batches and toast until the surfaces turn brown. Shake the skillet to turn the individual cubes. (minimizing the use of a spatula ensures that the cubes do not break up).
Add the tofu cubes to the edamame ‘curry’. cover and allow to simmer for 5-10 minutes to allow the flavors to combine.
Whip the yogurt and cream together until smooth and drizzle over the curry. gently stir to combine. (Omit this if you want a vegan version, ) Transfer to a serving dish & Garnish with cilantro. Serve hot with plain jasmine or basmati rice.
For a vegan version of the yogurt / cream finishing ingredient, I’d suggest, soaking 1/4 cup of cashew nuts in 1/2 a cup of almond milk and grinding the nuts into a smooth paste.
What are your Favorite examples of foodie Pleonasms??
As puerile as it sounds, the recipe for Bambalay curry caught my attention purely on the basis of the phonetic sound of it, the inner loop voice in my head kept going ‘Bambalay bambalay, bambalay…’ (reminded me of the song by the Gipsy kings ‘Bamboleo’)
until I gave in (& gave up) & bought home some cans of bamboo shoots. I’d already got a pack of the exotic ingredient required, ‘Kudampuli’.
So what on earth is Kudampuli? That was the question I was asking myself when I came across the ingredient in Raghavan Iyer’s book 660 curries. A part of me was a trifle indignant & miffed at not knowing what it was, especially since it figures in dishes from Southern India. Its known as ‘Gambooge’, from the same family as Mangosteen fruits and is native to Indonesia. In the dried form, they’re nothing to look at, resembling dried black bits of Candian Geese poop! Taste wise, they’re tart with an astringent tannic mouth feel, but what really sets this ingredient as a prize catch is the smoky aroma that emanates from the dried fruit. Its perfect for summer dishes with its deep earthy smokiness.
Its used in a manner similar to tamarind pods, soaked in warm water and squeezing out the smoky liquid extract. The recipe presented in 660 curries was a smoky tart ‘make you sit up & take notice’ bamboo shoot curry from the Coorg region of South India.
The internal structure of bamboo shoot is unbelievably beautiful, the minute you cut it longitudinally, Just take a look at the picture above, Need I say more?
I stuck to the original recipe the first time I made this curry last week, but it definitely opened up a floodgate of inspiration for other adaptations. My supper tonight was a curry made with hearts of palm served over fusilli shaped Brown Rice Pasta (yep, Whole Foods carries them & they’re delicious!), with grilled mushrooms, a gluten free treat.
Canned hearts of palm is a product that is easily available in most grocery stores. The whole types are soft & tender and lend themselves beautifully to salads. The cut variety often contains thicker, more mature coins that work perfectly for this curry.
Heart of Palm Curry with grilled portobello mushrooms over Rice pasta (serves 4)
(Recipe for Bambalay curry adapted from the book 660 curries by Raghavan Iyer. )
- 1 whole Kudampuli or 1/2 teaspoon Tamarind concentrate + 1 drop of liquid smoke (should be available in the same aisle that carries extracts & flavors in the grocery store)
- 1 cup boiling water
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
- 2-3 dried Arbol chiles broken in two
- 1 sprig curry leaves, torn into small bits
- 2 cloves garlic, sliced thin
- 2 cans Bamboo shoots or cut hearts of palm (or 1 can of each). If using hearts of palm, cut down on the amount of salt since these are packed in brine.
- Salt to taste
- 1 tablespoon rice flour mixed in about 1/4 cup water
- finely chopped cilantro for garnish
Soak the kudampuli in the boiling water for about 15 minutes. Squeeze out the fruit to obtain the smoky tart extract.
Drain the water from the hearts of Palm &/or bamboo shoots and cut into small bite sized pieces. Set aside.
Heat the oil in a skillet and add the mustard seeds. When it pops, add the fenugreek and arbol chile pieces. Once the fenugreek seeds & chile turn a deep reddish brown, add the garlic & curry leaves and allow the garlic to turn golden brown.
Add the shoots, kudampuli/tamarind extract and adjust for salt. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat to a simmer, allowing the flavors to get absorbed by the shoots.
Give a quick stir to the rice flour liquid and add this to the curry, taking care to keep stirring (this ensures that the rice mixture does not coagulate into little lumps).
Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve the curry with the pasta (as described below), or simply over Basmati rice, or paired with deep fried Poori.
To finish the Pasta dish:
- 2 cups dry Brown rice pasta spirals ( cook as per instructions on the package)
- 4 caps portobello mushrooms, gills scraped off
- Olive oil for brushing
- Cracked peppercorn
Brush the caps of the mushroom liberally with olive oil and sprinkle with the pepper. Heat a grill pan to high and place the mushroom over the pan, top facing down. Allow to grill for about 5 mins on high. (the underside of the mushroom will begin releasing the juices on the concave surface). Turn the caps over and cook the other side for another 5 minutes. Remove to a cutting board using a pair of tongs, and cut into slices.
To serve, ladle the curry over the pasta, garnish with cilantro & place the grilled mushrooms over on top.
I settled on ideas from some of my earliest posts on Facebook, pre – blog days. The classic dish from Kerala, Avial coupled with a French terrine recipe. The original inspiration was posted on Food52.com by blogger activist Perennial Plate, a.k.a Daniel Klein.
Spring… you definitely know its here when you spy these beauties in a single basket on the supermarket grocery shelf.. accompanied by a gasp inducing price tag.. ~ $12.99 /lb.. Black Truffles, they ain’t, but addictive & seductive enough to compulsively buy some each time I make a visit.
I’m referring to Ramps, that all American wild onion that peeps out from swampy shaded land all the way from the south to Canada.
The term Ramps derives from the Old English word Ramson, the term used for another wild species of onion , the European bear leek. Resembling scallions with broad green leaves, the flavor has been described somewhat as similar to ” fried green onions with a dash of funky feet”.
If Wikipedia is to be believed, the city of Chicago (shikaakwa translated as ‘wild onion’, in the local Native American language) got its name from the wide swath of wild ramps that once grew in the area.
I’ve been hooked on to ramps for over a year now, when I meekly experimented with the vegetable by combining them with potatoes & added them to a Pasta dish , and before I knew it, the ramp season was over!, so a year later, Here’s recipe # 3 – a Mutter Paneer in a creamy ramp flavored Makhani sauce.
In order to ensure that the ramps flavor is not overshadowed, The only ‘heat source for this decadent dish comes from crushed pickled green peppercorns. (They should be available at the local Indian grocery, look out for ‘Lakshmi’ brand green pepper pickles. Thanks Indian Food Rocks for asking me about it!)
Paneer & Peas in a creamy Ramp sauce.
8 stalks of Ramp, stems & leaves (chopped into thin strips)
8 oz. block of Paneer cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 cup frozen peas
2 cups skim or low fat milk
2-3 tablespoons sour cream
1/8 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon Garam Masala
Salt to taste
1 sprig (~ 15-20) pickled peppercorns, smashed
2 tablespoon vegetable oil
Sprigs of fresh mint for garnish
to be ground to a paste:
8 ramp bulbs, (the white part)
1 large onion, (I prefer white, but the red ones will do in a pinch)
1/2 cup broken cashew nuts
2 tablespoons minced ginger root
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Blend the ramp, onions, cashew & ginger into fine paste preferably without using any additional water.
|The lavender color is due to the red onions used! It disappears once the mix is sauteed.|
Heat the butter in a large skillet and add the cashew paste. Saute on low heat, until the mixture loses that raw onion aroma.
Heat vegetable oil in another smaller non stick skillet and saute the frozen peas. Add the ramp stalks & leaves & allow to wilt.
Transfer to wilted greens & peas into the cashew mixture, along with the Paneer, crushed peppercorns (Add a little in the beginning and increase as per your personal taste) turmeric, salt and garam masala.
Mix to combine. Add the milk, gradually into the curry, stirring all the while. Simmer on low heat until the flavors combine. Stir in the Sour cream& transfer to a serving dish. Garnish with mint & serve warm with Parathas or Roti.