Showing posts with label Cauliflower. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cauliflower. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Novel Food: Magloubeh

To all those who played along in the guessing game- thank you!

Veggie Belly, full marks to you; you are absolutely right- this is makloubeh/magloubeh. Kedar and Meera guessed correctly that this rice dish comes from the Middle East, Rainee and Manasi guessed correctly that it is upside down (the word magloubeh translates as "upside down"), and Mika guessed correctly that it involves soy "meat". Y'all are a bunch of smart people!

The recipe comes from a memoir by Diana Abu-Jaber, The Language of Baklava. I read the book last week, and with over 40 recipes sprinkled through it, each more tantalizing than the other, this memoir drove me right into the kitchen. Which is why this post goes to the Novel Food: Summer 2009 edition, co-hosted by Lisa over at Champaign Taste. This is THE event for cooks who love reading, or is it bookworms who love cooking?

For someone who loves both books and cooking, food memoirs are a pretty logical choice for a delicious summer read. Everyday mundane moments, events and experiences, sensations and smells and tastes crystallize over time into intricate, vivid memories that can be brought to life by the deft words of a talented writer. To dive into a good memoir is to be invited into a home and a life that can be very different from one's own, and to experience cultures and flavors and perspectives that can be completely new and enlightening. And like they say, "you can't make this stuff up"- I often find myself more interested in events that actually occurred in someone's life rather than in works of fiction. Although descriptions of food and meals may dominate these memoirs, it is never really just about the food. As Diana Abu-Jaber says in the foreword of this book, "...the food always turned out to be about something much larger: grace, difference, faith, love." Even as I read blog posts (and I dozens of blog posts every day), the ones that stick with me the most are the ones where memories gush forth and reveal the events, foods and people that mean the most to us.

Last summer, I read two good memoirs. One was Madhur Jaffrey's Climbing the Mango Trees. I find much of her writing both familiar (raw mangoes with salt and chilli powder, discovering new foods in the lunch boxes of school friends) and enchantingly different (life in a huge joint family, the historical events unfurling around her) from my own childhood experiences. If you want to read an extract from this book, go to the NPR website. The other engaging memoir was by Elizabeth Ehrlich, called Miriam's Kitchen. As the author describes her journey to understanding and embracing orthodox Jewish customs, I gained an understanding of these rituals as never before. One food memoir that I absolutely enjoyed is Julia Child's My Life in France. It is incredible how this woman grabbed life with both hands; her charm and candor are very appealing to me (Psst: Lisa is hosting a Julia Child event next month). For all Anglophiles, a must-read food memoir is Nigel Slater's Toast. His candid childhood memories are sprinkled with mentions of British treats. Another memoir that I found to be entertaining and an easy read was Ruth Reichl's Garlic and Sapphires. It contains many of her adventures as a restaurant critic for the New York Times- I enjoyed the behind-the-scenes footage that this book contains. This summer, I am hungry for more food memoirs, and found a blog post which suggests many books that might be interesting. If you have any food memoir recommendations for me, please leave a comment- thank you!

Coming back to the book on hand, The Language of Baklava was a delectable read. Every chapter talks about a certain episode or phase in Diana Abu-Jaber's life. She is a lyrical writer and I felt weak in the knees when she described the Big Market in Jordan, with the scents of "sesame, olive, incense, rosewater, orange blossom water, dust, jasmine, thyme". The lush descriptions of food are intermingled with the search for identity and home.

Out of all the dozens of recipes in this book, I was eager to make the one called "diplomatic magloubeh"- an upside down rice dish with eggplant, cauliflower and meat (that I am replacing here with a vegan meat substitute). Ironically, the author did not care for this dish as a child, and says that eating it made her feel like she was "at the mercy of the terrible sulfur-smoky cauliflower, the bitter, unrewarding eggplant". Mmm...sounds good to me! I always fall for these elaborate rice casseroles, especially the ones that involve dramatic upside down maneuvers at the end.



Adapted from the book The Language of Baklava by Diana Abu-Jaber

1 ½ cups rice
1 package "fake meat" (I used Beef-less strips from Trader Joe's)
2 onions, sliced
1 medium eggplant, sliced
½ cauliflower, cut into slices/florets
Plenty of olive oil
3½ cups vegetable stock (I used mushroom broth)
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp black pepper
½ tsp cumin
½ tsp coriander
Salt to taste
Handful of toasted pine nuts, for garnish

1. Fry the eggplant and cauliflower in olive oil until browned, and set them aside.
2. In a wide and deep saucepan, saute the sliced onions in olive oil until golden brown.
3. Add the fake meat and all the spices and stir fry for a minute.
4. Pat down the onion-fake meat layer. Layer the fried cauliflower on top of it.
5. Layer the raw rice on the cauliflower, add the eggplant slices as the last layer.
6. Pour the stock all over. This is the tricky part- adding the correct amount of stock so as to cook the rice properly but not leave it too soggy. I added enough so that the contents of the pot were barely immersed, and it worked out OK this time.
7. Cover the pot tightly and let the rice cook. It took me about 35-40 minutes.
8. Once you turn the heat off, let the rice rest for 10 minutes, then invert it very carefully onto a platter. Garnish with pine nuts.

I served this festive rice with cucumber tahini salad, as the author suggests. I made the salad by mixing together 1 large cucumber (shredded) with 1 cup low-fat yogurt, 1 tablespoon tahini, cumin and salt to taste. Now, I have never tasted actual magbouleh and probably never will, since restaurants will make this with meat, but all I can say is this was a very special and tasty meal. The cinnamon and nutmeg and fried onions all combine to flavor the rice in a most extravagant way. The one thing is that the eggplant and cauliflower do get cooked twice (once while being fried and browned and the other with the rice) so they are mushy and overcooked- probably why the author complained about this dish as a child.

At the very end of this post, there is a traditional recipe for makloubeh. I was gratified that my version looked quite similar to the one shown in that post. I also found a recipe for vegetable makloubeh on the Guardian website (scroll down to the middle of the rather long page to find this recipe).

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Let me make a long post even longer by sharing a photo of Dale. I took this one last evening, when our resident pooch was back from a long walk in the sunshine, tired and happy, smiling and resting his feet on his much-loved blankie.

This morning, we have thunderstorms so he's not that happy any more. Dale only has to hear the faintest rumble of thunder to dive into a corner of the nearest closet. If there are storms as far away as Arkansas, you can bet that this brave dog will be quaking with fear. We have lined all the closets with small rugs for his comfort because thunderstorms are a very regular feature of summer weather in the Mid-West. Once the storm passes, he emerges from his hide-out, looks around him carefully, and settles back down on his blankie with a deep sigh.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Spicy Cauliflower Soup

Can you believe 2007 is almost over?! It is a little shocking to know that the very last month of the year is only a couple of days away (especially because I still catch myself writing 2006 as the year...I know...I am a little slow on the uptake). It has been a very enjoyable year for me, in terms of cooking. This year, much more than past years, I have had a lot more time to indulge myself in reading cookbooks, trying new recipes, and learning some new techniques along the way. A few days ago, I received a review copy of a cookbook that promises to teach me much more about home cooking.

The book is called "The Art of Simple Food" by Alice Waters. The tag-line of the book reads "Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution" and it is indeed a revolution that Alice Waters is credited with bringing about. A movement away from processed and canned (in more ways than one) food that was (is?) so heavily marketed in the country, and towards appreciating food for what it is really is- a joy, not a burden. To see an example of Waters' work, take a look at the Edible Schoolyard project in a school in Berkeley, California, where the school's curriculum revolves around working in the school garden; learning the sensory joys of cooking and gardening; tasting real food from an early age.

The back cover of the book lists nine fundamental guidelines that the book is based on. Simple statements like "Cook together", "Eat together" and "Remember food is precious" that seem so fundamental, but unfortunately, are not that basic in our lives any more. I read all those lines, and thought to myself: as a child growing up in middle class India, most of these principles were very much a part of our lives. It is good to be reminded of them from time to time.

What I really love about this book is that it does not teach you to cook ABC or XYZ so much as it simply teaches you to cook. Waters is a patient and methodical teacher, laying the foundation of cooking in the first part of the book and devoting the second half of the book to a bounty of recipes for every course of the meal. For instance, the section of cake elaborates on the principles underlying the conversion of flour, eggs, butter and sugar into an airy dessert, then gives a versatile cake recipe and suggestions for turning it into a layer cake, a sheet cake, cupcakes etc. Each recipe has ideas for variations, reinforcing the fact that once you know the technique and principles, you hardly even need a recipe to cook simple meals. Over a few years of regular cooking, I am learning principles of Indian cooking to some extent, but a cookbook such as this one is wonderful for learning some classic "Western" recipes. I often find myself flipping through voluminous cookbooks, gazing at lovely photographs but barely coming across even one recipe that I really want to try. This one does not have a single photograph of a prepared dish (some lovely ink illustrations are certainly found here) but I found a dozen recipes that I am very eager to try.

The first recipe I tried from this book is Spicy Cauliflower Soup. This is one versatile vegetable that seems to find its way into my shopping bag nearly every week. In this home, cauliflower seems to be cooked repetitively in a few favorite ways- some naughty, some nice, and then, the delicious but predictable roasted cauliflower. I have been meaning to try other avatars of this cruciferous beauty, and this soup jumped up as an unusual (for me) way of cooking it. Besides, I spotted it on the menu of Waters' Chez Panisse Cafe- it is very unlikely that I will be eating there any time soon, so here is my chance to taste a little bit of that place virtually.

This simple soup is jazzed up with familiar spices: the toasted coriander and cumin (I used a mortar and pestle to crack the spices) add a burst of flavor and texture. Turmeric adds a subtle tinge and warmth to the soup. The soup calls for any combination of broth and water. I never have vegetable broth on hand, and don't usually get around to making my own (don't use it often enough, basically). I used to just substitute water in recipes that called for stock, but have recently started using a stock base that I really like. It is a brand called "Better Than Bouillon" and they have several vegetarian bases. I must say the stock adds to the depth of flavor in this soup.

Spicy Cauliflower Soup

(adapted from The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters, makes about 6 servings)
1 medium head of cauliflower, trimmed and florets coarsely chopped
1 onion, peeled and cubed
1 carrot, peeled and cubed
2 T olive oil
1 t cracked roasted coriander seeds
1 t cracked roasted cumin seeds
1/2 t turmeric
pinch of red pepper flakes
1/4 C chopped cilantro
3 cups stock (see note above)
2 cups water
juice of 1/2 lemon
1. In a heavy pot, heat the olive oil and add onion, carrot, coriander, cumin, turmeric, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper to taste.
2. Cook on medium heat, stirring often, until the vegetables are very soft and the spices are toasted and fragrant.
3. Add the cilantro and cauliflower florets and stir for a minute more.
4. Add stock and water, bring to a boil, and then simmer, covered, until the cauliflower is tender. This took me about 15 minutes or so.
5. Use a blender (I use a stick blender) to partially blend the soup to a puree. If you prefer a coarser stew, just mash the florets with a wooden spoon and skip the blender. Stir in the lemon juice.

I served the soup with a delicious parmesan-crusted khakra-esque flatbread cracker. A crunchy accompaniment like crackers or croutons would go beautifully with this soup. Alice Waters suggests a garnish of yogurt, chopped mint and lime juice for each serving. I had no yogurt or mint on hand when I made this soup, but won't be skipping these delightful garnishes the next time I make this. I'm glad to have found yet another flavorful way to serve a beloved vegetable!

A hearty soup like this one is the perfect antidote to long dark winter evenings.

For more tips on staying active and cheerful through this season, check out my November Daily Tiffin column: Brightening the Winter Blues.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Weekend Stuff

Dale places a possessive paw on his new toy, a moose.

Moose-y has a head that squeaks when it is pressed, and Dale loves to carry it around in his mouth all over the place. We have a Halloween pet parade in our neighborhood in a couple of weeks, and I'm dying to get Dalu into a costume for the occasion (he looks miserable every time I talk about it :D...Dale prefers the au naturel look). Any ideas for a simple doggie costume for this handsome pooch?

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Some delicious recipes from fellow bloggers:

1. I love roasted cauliflower in all its shapes and forms. Susan, the Food Blogga, posted a Crispy Breaded Cauliflower recipe that made my knees go weak. The idea of dipping florets into egg whites and then into breadcrumbs, then baking them to a glorious crispy finish- I took that concept and tried a variation of it. I made masala breadcrumbs by whizzing together 2 dried-out old slices of bread, 1 t cumin seeds, 1 t ajwain (carom seeds), red chilli powder, 1 T olive oil and salt in the food processor. The only problem: I was not able to get very fine breadcrumbs. I then dipped florets in beaten egg white, rolled them in the masala breadcrumbs and baked them as directed.

The result was so delicious and supremely crunchy. The coarse breadcrumbs did not stick on as well as they should have, hence the patchy look of the cauliflower, but this is totally worth a repeat. Maybe next time I will buy some panko (Japanese style breadcrumbs) and then spice them up. Of course, I also have to try out Susan's original recipe with the olive tapenade (there, my knees are going weak again).

2. For many months, I have been making my usual crunchy granola with minor variations. But I discovered an awesome granola recipe last week that is sure to become the new favorite. This recipe for small batch crunchy granola was shared by Anna of Cookie Madness.

I did follow the recipe exactly as it is, only scaling it up to 3 cups granola to fill a full-size cookie sheet. Oats and nuts are tossed with a sugar-water-vanilla mixture, then baked at a lower temperature for a longer time. The result, I have to admit, is a lot crunchier than my usual granola, and it stayed that way over the several days that we enjoyed this granola. And one ingredient is conspicuous by its absence; there is **no oil** in this recipe. YAY!

3. Finally, a delicious treat that I always thought was too challenging to make at home, made easy by a fellow blogger. Besan ladoos are made from a toasted chickpea flour-sugar-ghee (clarified butter) mixture, shaped into portion-controlled treats by loving hands.

Tee from Bhaatukli has shared an awesome recipe for microwave besan ladoo that takes all the effort out of besan ladoo-making. I followed her directions exactly and needed about 7-8 1-minute bursts in my microwave for the chickpea flour to get all fragrant and toasty. The last step, shaping the ladoos, is a workout that requires all the strength in your fist to get beautiful ladoos like Tee's. Mine were passable :) I took the ladoos over to the home of our friends. All four of us that were gathered there had not tasted besan ladoos for years and years, and the look of pure joy on our faces as we bit into these...priceless!

Have a wonderful weekend!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Breaking Bread with the Bloggers

Every month, Coffee from The Spice Cafe sends us off on a mission called the Monthly Blog Patrol: the idea is to browse our favorite blogs and choose some recipes that make us want to run to the kitchen and try them, and, well, run to the kitchen and *actually* try them, instead of merely drooling all over the keyboard. This month's theme: BREAD from scratch.

There are all kinds of breads that are on my to-do list. This time, I decided to try my hand at making submarine rolls (or baguettes or hoagies, if you prefer), the ones that are delicious with all sorts of sandwich fillings. I always seek out these rolls from good bakeries- the best rolls have a hard crusty shell that cracks as you bite it, revealing a soft and pillowy interior. After all, anyone can turn out fabulous cakes and pastries full of rich ingredients, but it takes a great deal of talent to make a delicious product from just flour, water and yeast. The inspiring recipe came from the blog Coconut and Lime. With just 1.5 cups of flour, it is a small-scale recipe, perfect for pilot experiments.

The most sought-after characteristic of these rolls- the crisp texture of the crust- is achieved by creating a steaming effect in the oven when the rolls start to bake. This can be done either by spritzing the oven interior with a spray bottle filled with water, or by throwing ice cubes on the floor of the oven. I tried both and thought that the ice cube dumping was easier and worked better. I suggest reading the original recipe carefully if you want to try this; I have merely written a short summary here. It takes about 3 hours from the time you start making the dough to the point of getting fresh-baked rolls from the oven.

Sub Rolls

(adapted from Coconut and Lime, makes 4 palm-sized rolls).

1. In a food processor, make a smooth dough with 1.5 cups flour (I used 1:1 all-purpose flour and white whole-wheat flour), 1 t salt, 1.5 t yeast and 0.5 C or so water.
2. Knead the dough for 5 minutes, then let it rise for an hour or so.
3. Gently collapse the dough, divide gently into 4 portions and let them rest for 20-30 minutes.
4. On a cornmeal-sprinkled surface, gently pat each portion of dough into an oblong shape. Cover and let it rise for another hour.
5. Heat the oven (with a pizza stone inside) to 450 degrees F. Place the rolls on the pizza stone, throw 4-5 ice cubes on the oven floor (they will melt and vaporize with a great deal of hissing and sizzling), and close the oven door.
6. After 5 minutes, turn the temperature of the oven down to 400 degrees F, throw 3-4 more ice cubes on the oven floor, and let the rolls bake for 15 more minutes, or until golden brown.

I used the rolls as a base for Barbecue sandwiches, using this recipe from Vegetarian Times.

It was the very first time that I used the meat substitute seitan (wheat gluten) and I thought it was OK, but nothing to write home about. The barbecue sauce was quite flavorful and overall, we enjoyed these sandwiches. The rolls had a superb crust, to my delight, but the inside was a little more dense than I would have liked. All in all, this was a delicious meal.

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Here are a couple more recipes from fellow bloggers that I tried and loved (NOT entries for the event, just ones that I wanted to share here)...

There are all kinds of reasons why I bookmark a recipe, but this following recipe was bookmarked for the simple reason that it has such an irresistable name: Succulent Mountain Mushrooms. I was tempted to make this delicious mushroom curry the minute I read Nabeela's post.

This recipe was a good example of how minor variations in the spice profile can lead to such diversity in the tastes of dishes. This mushroom curry starts off with the most unusual tempering: asafoetida, fenugreek seeds and jet-black nigella seeds (kalonji). This last ingredient is a newcomer to my pantry. The result was completely delicious! The mushrooms are the most succulent and flavorful ever, and if you close your eyes tight, you can pretend that you enjoying the crispness of the Himalayan air, rather than being trapped in a sweltering Mid-Western summer.
P.S.: This recipe comes from a beautiful book called Mangoes and Curry Leaves by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. Part travelogue, part photo-essay, part cookbook- this coffee table-style book is entirely worth a read.

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I happened to mention spaghetti with soy "meatballs" and roasted cauliflower in this post and Roshni left a comment on the post saying that she would like the recipes for these. Well, it took me quite a few weeks to get to it, but here are the methods to make these (too simple to be official "recipes")...
1. Spaghetti with soy "meatballs": This quick yet satisfying dinner uses three pantry staples- whole wheat spaghetti, canned whole tomatoes, and fake "meatballs". I don't use meat substitutes very often, but this last product (usually made of soy protein) is something I do like to keep on hand. There are many brands available, and I normally use the ones from Trader Joe's.

I started by following Karen's recipe for Sunday gravy
(pasta sauce for the rest of us!) to the letter, except that I did not add any soy crumbles. I always imagined that flavorful pasta sauce requires hours of simmering, but luckily, I was wrong :) This one takes 20 minutes and is absolutely delicious. The fennel seeds add incredible flavor, so don't even dream of skipping them! I added thawed soy "meatballs" in the last 5 minutes of simmering. Toss this sauce with cooked whole wheat noodles and sit down to the heartiest meal ever. This is a wonderful meal for a crowd- or for family dinner- don't miss the lovely description of Sunday dinner in Karen's post.

2. Roasted cauliflower: our favorite fall/ winter side dish, a go-to vegetable dish when inspiration fails me. Cauliflower cooked this way is so tasty that I find myself nibbling on it as if it were popcorn. I don't have a picture of this, but will update the post the next time I make this stuff.
(a) Take a medium head of cauliflower. Cut into bite-size florets. Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees F.
(b) Place the florets on a large baking sheet. Drizzle with 2-3 T extra-virgin olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Use our hands to distribute the oil over the florets.
(c) Roast for 25-30 minutes, stirring every 7-8 minutes, or until the florets start browning. By this time, the cauliflower should be tender on the inside (test with the point of a knife). If not, turn the oven off and leave the sheet in there for 5-10 minutes more.
(d) While cauliflower is roasting, mix the following in a bowl: 1/4 C coarsely chopped olives (any kind you like; I usually use Kalamata olives), 1 heaped T capers, red chilli flakes (optional), 2 T fresh lemon juice and 2 T minced parsley.
(e) Stir the olive mixture into the roasted cauliflower and serve.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

WBB: The Eggstraordinary Giant Cauliflower Puff

This is my entry for the monthly Weekend Breakfast Blogging, an event show-casing what is certainly my favorite meal of the day. WBB is a brainchild of Nandita from Saffron Trail. This month, WBB is being hosted by Sigma of Live To Eat, and the theme is: EGGS!

A very interesting and illuminating book that I recently read is called What To Eat, written by the much-admired nutritionist Marion Nestle.

To my intense disappointment, I have chosen to live in times (and especially, in a country) where there are food wars being waged all the time! It takes a great deal of effort to shut out the blaring (and often misleading) food advertisements, heated discussions over every nutrient present in food, and the realization that the vast majority of food is produced in factories and not on farms. Reading Marion Nestle's book made me calm down a little. In a sea of food-related hysteria, she is the voice of reason, making her conclusions in an evidence-based manner, guided by unbiased research. What Nestle does is: she walks the reader through the entire supermarket- the dairy aisles, meat section, produce, breads, every aisle that one is likely to visit on the weekly trip to the store- and delves into the issues surrounding each product, coming up with her well-researched conclusion on each issue. If you want to be an informed consumer in the US, this book is a must-read. Her style is engaging and accessible, gently humorous, and lucid, even when she is discussing fairly technical issues. I was surprised at how much I learned.

Today, we are on the subject of eggs for breakfast. Have you ever been faced with a wall of egg cartons where no two look the same? Have you ever screamed in frustration at having to do a sophisticated cost-benefit analysis just to buy a dozen eggs? To give an example of Nestle's work, here are some conclusions that I could make after reading the chapter on eggs:
1. COLOR: The color of egg shells- white and brown- is simply different for different breeds of hens. It has no bearing on the nutritional value whatsoever.
2. SIZE: Extra-large eggs have more nutrients (but also more calories) than large eggs. Large eggs are a more reasonable portion size. The majority of recipes that use eggs call for large eggs, and not extra-large, so for those two reasons, I will be buying large eggs.
3. CHOLESTEROL: All the cholesterol in the eggs is in the egg yolks. Because the yolk is very high in cholesterol, it makes sense for adults to not eat more than one whole egg a day. Even one egg a day is too much if you are consuming cholesterol in fairly large amounts from other sources like meat and dairy. In my home, I make egg dishes twice a week, using 3-4 eggs each time, so V and I each consume about 3-4 eggs a week each. Good enough.
4. SALMONELLA: Egg producers know the safety features that need to be incorporated in order to control the probability of salmonella contamination, but they don't really want to take the trouble or spend the money to do so. They would rather slap on a label that warns us to cook eggs thoroughly, and leave the responsibility to the consumers.
5. DESIGNER EGGS: Eggs that claim to have high amounts of Vitamin E, Omega-3 fatty acids etc. The higher amounts are achieved through the feed- for instance, hens are fed with flaxseeds to get their eggs to contain higher amounts of Omega-3s. For this feature, the price of the eggs is hiked up by 2-3 fold. You may as well eat regular eggs, and eat flaxseeds (or other sources) for the Omega-3s.
6. HUMANE TREATMENT OF HENS: Cartons of eggs often come with various statements saying how the hens were fed and raised. According to Nestle's thorough research, this is what the labels mean:
a) USDA Certified Organic: This is the most reliable seal. It means that hens are only fed organic, vegetarian feed, plus they are raised in sufficient space without over-crowding.
b) Certified Humane: It is a reliable certification for how hens are raised and handled, but they are a little less restrictive about the kind of feed that the hens are given.
c) United Egg Producers Certified: One should be very skeptical about this certification. For all intents and purposes, it is a misleading marketing gimmick.

OK, I'm getting hungry. Let's make some breakfast! Today's recipe comes from a bona fide breakfast cook-book: The Sunlight Cafe by Mollie Katzen.

The book was given to me as a gift by V's brother, and I do love having it on my bookshelf. I can't say I make too many recipes from the book, but it is a great resource for ideas and inspiration. And the name Sunlight Cafe does conjure up images of a leisurely brunch in a sunny cafe with fresh flowers on the table and the sizzle of a waffle iron in the background. I like Mollie Katzen's whimsical illustrations and the playful names she often gives to her recipes: this one, the giant cauliflower-cheese puff, sounds like it came straight out of a Roald Dahl story. The dish is simple enough to make: a filling of cauliflower florets is doused with an eggy-cheesy batter and baked until golden and puffy.

Giant Cauliflower Puff

(serves 3-4, adapted from Mollie Katzen's The Sunlight Cafe)
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a baking dish with baking spray, then coat with a thin film of melted butter (by placing a small pat of butter in the dish, placing it in the pre-heating oven for a couple of minutes to melt it, then tilting the pan to spread the melted butter evenly).
2. Make the filling: Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a skillet, then saute 1 medium chopped onion, 2 cloves garlic, minced. Add 3 cups cauliflower florets (about half a medium head of cauliflower) and saute for 5-8 minutes until the cauliflower is just starting to brown and become tender (it does not need to cook completely as it will be baked again). Turn off the heat. Season with salt and pepper. Go easy on the salt because the cheese in the batter will be quite salty. Stir in 3-4 tbsp minced parsley. Add the filling into the prepared baking dish
3. Make the batter: In a large bowl, combine 3 large eggs, 1/2 cup milk (I used low-fat), 1/2 cup all-purpose flour and 1/3 cup cheese (I used a combination of shredded Monterey Jack and Brie torn into small pieces). Use a hand blender or regular blender to mix everything into a smooth batter. Pour the batter over the cauliflower in the baking dish. Set the dish on a baking sheet to catch any spills while baking, like so:
4. Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until puffed and golden. Test with a skewer or knife to make sure that the puff is cooked all through.
5. Cut into wedges or squares and serve!

The verdict: We enjoyed the giant cauliflower puff immensely! It tastes like a delicious souffle without the fuss. Anyone who likes eggs and savory foods for breakfast will enjoy this. It is wonderful to start the day with a healthy serving of vegetables. Two notes:
1. The recipe is highly flexible: you can use any other vegetables (broccoli, mushrooms, asparagus is suggested by Katzen) or any combination of vegetables. You can use any cheese (or combination of cheeses) that you like, and any herbs.
2. This is a great brunch dish for a crowd. Make the filling ahead of time. Preparing the batter takes only minutes, and it can bake in the oven unattended.
3. Next time, I would choose a shallow baking dish. Using the Pyrex bowl that I did, the puff took too long to bake and as you can see, the edges started to brown too much before the middle was fully cooked. Using a shallow dish would help the puff to cook more evenly.

Some other recipes from The Sunlight Cafe that I found on other blogs/ websites, for those who have a sweet tooth...
Chocolate Babka,
Chocolate Ricotta Muffins (from our very own Mika!),
Chai Oatmeal,
and a trio of recipes: Smoothie, Fruit Salad and Pumpkin Muffins

Like eggs for breakfast? Here are my three favorite recipes:
Egg Onion Float
Indian Railways Omelet Sandwich
Pateta Par Eeda

Sunday, March 11, 2007

G is for Gobi Paratha

The myriad cuisines of India all love their vegetables! Veggies are diced and sliced, grated and mashed, stir-fried and curried into hundreds of vegetable dishes. In this series, the A to Z of Indian Vegetables, we take an alphabetical journey through the various avatars of vegetables relished in Indian cuisine. For each letter, we will make a tasty vegetable dish that illustrates one manner in which vegetables are savored in India.

The "G" of Indian Vegetables

The letter G inspired fourteen gorgeous Indian flavors!

First, a bountiful harvest of verdant vegetables, many of them the lush shade of green.

We start with Green Beans, also called French beans or haricots verts, those tender pods that are so versatile in Indian cooking. Usha of Samayal Ulagam stir-fries the fresh green beans with some toor dal for some extra oomph and ends up with this delicious Green Bean Poriyal.

Sheela of Delectable Victuals talks about her lovely kitchen garden and how she had to harvest her lovely grape tomatoes while they were still green and unripe. She cooks these tiny, gorgeous Green Grape Tomatoes into a delicious and filling Green Grape Tomato Rice.

A beloved tropical fruit/vegetable all over the coastal regions of India is the Green Jackfruit. The sight of these gigantic prickly green fruits swaying from the high branches of a jackfruit tree is quite a spectacle (and just a little bit scary)! Here, canned jackfruit is cooked into a quick and easy Green Jackfruit Curry by Sheela of Delectable Victuals.

Another tropical green vegetable, nah, fruit, follows: the mouth-puckering, tender Green Mango. In India, this (mid-March) is just about the time when green mangoes make their appearance in the market, at least where I come from, and people are busy considering what pickles and chutneys and relishes to make this year.Linda of Out Of The Garden found a stash of green mango in brine (it looks so juice and tender) in her fridge, and promptly converted it into a wholesome Green Mango Dal.

Next come the ever-popular Green Peas. Although fresh green peas are not very easy to find, frozen green peas are an excellent ingredient to stash away in the freezer, with handfuls ready to be used at any time. We have two recipes featuring these little pearls, each pairing green peas with another vegetable.

Green peas make a delightful appearance in a tasty curry of Green Peas with Capsicum by Swapna of Tastes From My Kitchen.

The other green peas recipe is also by a different blogger with the same name! Swapna of Swad makes a juicy curry of Green Peas with Mushrooms.

After all these green vegetables comes a bright orange one! The carrot or Gajar is abundantly harvested during the winter months in India. Here in the US, I find that carrots are one vegetable that are inexpensive, easily available and lend themselves to a thousand delicious uses. Here are two carrot recipes: one for brunch and the other for dessert.

Asha of Aroma/ Foodie's Hope starts the day right with a veggie-rich breakfast. She combines carrot and whole-wheat flour to make these nutritious and pretty Gajar Masala Rotis, which she serves with a chutney made with another "G" vegetable/spice, Garlic!

Meanwhile, carrots are a sweet treat at the end of a meal. Cooked carrots combine with almonds and cashew nuts into a creamy and rich Gajar Kheer, made by Suma of Veggie Platter.

Our next vegetable is on my shopping list every single week: the Gobi or cauliflower, with its beautiful off-white florets that pack a nutritional punch. We have two Gobi curries from two different regions of India.

Lakshmi of Veggie Cuisine roasts some cauliflower florets and then cooks them in a Northen-Indian style tomato-based curry to create the decadent Gobi Masala.

Sandeepa of Bong Mom's Cookbook makes an exotic Bengali dish called Chaal Kopi or cauliflower cooked in spices with a smattering of rice, studded with peanuts and raisins. Sandeepa also shares some valuable career advice given by her little just have to read this post!

We now come to a vegetable is usually used more like a herb or spice, and is indispensable in Indian cooking: the knobby but delicious Ginger! It is the star ingredient in a spicy, sweet-and-sour treat of a Ginger Curry made by Sigma of Live to Eat. This dish is a traditional one from the Southern Indian state of Kerala, and Sigma shares her Mom's recipe, which is simplified, yet has a unique blend of flavors.

With all this talk of vegetables, let's not forget the chickpea or Garbanzo Bean, a valuable source of protein in the vegetarian diet. Here, we have a traditional family recipe for "chole" or Garbanzo beans in a spicy gravy shared by Pinki of Desi-Fusion Corner.

We end with two more delicious regional specialties!

The first is a popular dal from the Southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. Shivapriya of My Cookbook uses the sunshine-hued pumpkin, called Gummadikaya in Telugu (the Andhra language) and cooks it into a beautiful, nutritious dal called Gummadikaya Pulusu.

The second regional favorite comes from the Western Indian state of Gujarat. Gujarati food is famous for its delicious snacks and appetizers, such as the ghugra, little boat-shaped turnovers that are plump with a filling of spiced peas. Bee and Jai of Jugalbandi share their recipe for a oven-baked ghugra, made with whole-wheat flour to add to the taste and nutrition!


G is for Ginger-spiced Gobi Paratha: Vegetables and Bread

Grains form the basis of any diet, and in that respect, one might consider India to be divided horizontally down the middle: the upper (Northern) part of India is predominantly a wheat-growing region, and breads, mostly flatbreads, feature prominently in the traditional diet. India is a peninsula, and the whole Southern part has a coast, and is predominantly a rice-growing (and consuming) region. In the middle of the country, where I am from, I grew up eating a little bit of bread and a little bit of rice at every meal, a very satisfying compromise! Times have changed, and today, people all over India enjoy both wheat and rice, but the best traditional recipes reflect these regional differences, with bread recipes usually deriving from Northern India.

Breads in Indian cuisine are a world all on their own. Most Indian breads are made with whole-wheat flour that is ground to a finer consistency than the whole-wheat flour sold in the US. We call it atta, but you may also find it being sold as chappati flour. I remember, growing up, that we never bought flour from the store, we bought whole kernels of wheat instead. These would be taken to a local grain mill, where, for a small fee, they would pour your grain into an industrial-strength mill and give you freshly ground flour made right in front of your eyes. What a way to ensure quality and freshness! When you said whole-wheat, you meant just that, nothing more and nothing less. Anyway, I do think that the atta you buy here is basically packaged flour that is made the same way, by grinding whole wheat grains and not robbing them of any nutrition.

Where do the vegetables come in? Many delicious recipes combine cooked, spiced vegetables and the whole-wheat dough into one tasty bread. In general, I can think of two major ways in which this is done. In the first, easier, method, the flour is mixed in with vegetables (typically, chopped greens or mashed vegetables) and spices to make one dough. Then the dough is rolled into breads that are griddle-baked with a little oil or ghee. In the second type, the dough is kneaded with just flour, water and salt, and a separate filling of spicy vegetables is cooked. Then, while rolling the dough, the filling is encased in the dough, and you get a delicious stuffed paratha with vegetables hiding in layers of flaky griddle-baked dough.

Some of the most popular stuffed parathas come from the Northern Indian state of Punjab; one is the aloo paratha (paratha stuffed with potato) and the other is the gobi paratha (stuffed with gobi or cauliflower). For the G of Indian vegetables, I took some gobi and paired it with ginger (a match made in culinary heaven) and made stuffed parathas. Madhur Jaffrey's book, World Vegetarian, provided help in two ways: (a) she suggests that olive oil can be used to make this paratha: in the dough, to stir-fry the filling, and to cook the parathas. This is quite a bit healthier than the traditional fat (ghee), especially for breakfast! The flavors of the paratha are bold enough that I thought olive oil worked very well here. (b) Her recipe was useful for determining the proportions of filling and dough that I needed for this recipe.

I find stuffed parathas quite a challenge to make. I do not consider them a recipe for beginners. To roll out stuffed parathas into thin perfect circles without letting the filling spill out is not the easiest thing, but the only way is practice, practice, practice :) A soggy filling can ruin the paratha-rolling effort, so the filling should be as dry as possible. My parathas are still not as thin as I would like them, but they manage to taste good, so what if they are a bit thick and imperfect?

Gobi Paratha

Recipe adapted from World Vegetarian by Madhur Jaffrey; Makes 5 filling parathas.
1. Make the dough: Mix 2 cups atta (see recipe introduction), 1/2 tsp salt and 1 tbsp olive oil. Add enough water to make a soft dough and knead it for 10 minutes until it is smooth and elastic. Cover with a damp towel and set aside in a covered bowl for 30 minutes.
2. Make the filling: This is easily done while the dough is resting. You need 2 cups of finely minced or grated cauliflower, one minced fresh green chili and 1 tsp minced fresh ginger. Heat 1 tbsp oil in a skillet. Add 1 tsp cumin seeds, chili and ginger and stir until fragrant (few seconds). Add the grated cauliflower, 1/2 tsp turmeric, 1/2 tsp ajwain seeds (carom seeds, optional), salt and pepper to taste and stir well. Cook on low heat, uncovered, until the cauliflower is tender. You want the mixture to be very dry.
3. To make the parathas, knead the dough again for two minutes and then divide it into five portions, like so:

In the skillet, divide the filling roughly into five portions too:

Take a portion of the dough and roll it out into a fat circle (try and make the edges of the circle thinner than the center). Place one portion of the stuffing in the middle and pull up the edges to cover the filling. Press down flat and roll it out gently into a flat evenly-thick circle. Fry the paratha in a hot griddle, using a few drops of olive oil to fry each side until it is golden and well-cooked.

Left-over parathas can be refrigerated. Simply heat them in a toaster oven until they are sizzling hot and they will be as good as new.

Variations on a theme
1. Use ghee or butter to fry the paratha for a decadent treat.
2. Stuff the paratha with any combination of vegetables of your choice; it should work as long as the vegetables are minced finely/ grated and the filling is fairly dry.

How do you serve this dish?
Stuffed parathas can be devoured in endless creative ways. Here are a few...
(a) Simply serve the gobi paratha with Indian-style pickles or relishes and a cup of yogurt for a delicious breakfast, brunch or lunch. As the picture above shows, I served the paratha with some store-bought Punjabi pickle, an amazing blend of spices and some everyday vegetables like carrot, lime, raw mango, and some unusual ones like lotus root and fresh turmeric root.
(b) Cut the paratha into quarters and serve as part of a larger brunch buffet.
(c) Wrap the paratha around salad and eat as a...well, wrap!
(d) Make a "panini" by wrapping the paratha around a slice of cheese and grilling it.
(e) Cut the paratha into wedges and serve as an appetizer with some chutney as a dip.

Fellow bloggers have come up with many delicious Breads featuring Vegetables:

Potato-stuffed paratha, probably the most popular type...
Potato-Pea Paratha from Manpasand,
Quick non-stuffed potato paratha from My Khazana of Recipes,

Two breads with nutritious greens...
Spinach Cheese Paratha from Saffron Hut,
Radish Greens Paratha from The Cook's Cottage,

Two unusual creations with bread...
Beet Bread Roll from Bong Mom's Cookbook,
Avocado Paratha from Spice is Right,

Previously on the A to Z of Indian Vegetables...
A is for Aloo Gobi: North-Indian Stir-Fry
B is for Bharli Mirchi: Stuffed Vegetables
C is for Carrot-Cashew Payasam: Desserts
D is for Dum ki Arbi: Dum Style of Cooking
E is for Egg-Fried Rice: Rice and Vegetables
F is for Foogath: South-Indian Stir-Fry

Sunday, March 04, 2007

F is for French Bean-Fulgobi Foogath

The myriad cuisines of India all love their vegetables! Veggies are diced and sliced, grated and mashed, stir-fried and curried into hundreds of vegetable dishes. In this series, the A to Z of Indian Vegetables, we take an alphabetical journey through the various avatars of vegetables relished in Indian cuisine. For each letter, we will make a tasty vegetable dish that illustrates one manner in which vegetables are savored in India.

The "F" of Indian Vegetables

The letter F inspired ten fantastic Indian flavors!

To start off, the beloved fenugreek, used in Indian cooking in three different avatars: First, as a leafy green vegetable, nutritious and delicious with a pleasantly bitter bite. Second, dried, as a herb known as kasuri methi, where the deep distinctive flavor of fenugreek can be added pinch by pinch. Third, as fenugreek seeds, a spice, often ground into a masala with other spices or added while tempering a dish. All three forms can be found in Indian or international stores. The leaves are usually sold both fresh and frozen.

First up, a delicious appetizer to whet the appetite: Asha of Foodie's Hope/ Aroma used fenugreek leaves combined with cornmeal and spices to fry up some crispy, golden, mouth-watering "Indian-style hush puppies" or Fenugreek Fritters.

Fenugreek leaves team up with radish to make a quick and nutritious Fenugreek-Radish Curry, a contribution by Trupti of The Spice Who Loved Me.

Pinki of Desi Fusion Corner packs a double fenugreek punch by combining fenugreek leaves and the dried kasuri methi with some cauliflower and potatoes to make a wholesome and tasty Aloo Gobhi Methi ka Tuk.

Fenugreek seeds play a leading role in the Fenugreek-Broccoli curry, an unusual preparation, again by Trupti of The Spice Who Loved Me. She says that even her little son loves broccoli cooked this way, which means that this is a must-try recipe for all broccoli-haters!

Want to learn more about fenugreek seeds and their uses? See them featured here by Lydia of Perfect Pantry.

We move on to three additional F vegetables...

First up is fuzzy melon, a wonderful asian squash (new to me) introduced by Pinki of Desi Fusion Corner. Pinki describes the melon and makes a creative dish called Fuzzy Melon ki Sabzzi.

Next comes fennel, that beautiful bulb with a frilly top, and the interesting taste of licorice or anise. Linda of Out Of The Garden creates yet another delightful preparation called Fennel with Toor Dal and Garlic by roasting the fennel and combining it with some garlicky dal. What an amazing flavor profile this dal has!

Finally, a vegetable that is easily available and well-known: french beans. Verdant and crunchy, fresh french beans or green beans certainly are used in countless Indian dishes.

Lakshmi of Veggie Cuisine shares a family recipe for an unusual French Beans Stew. French beans combine with potato and the flavors of ginger and coconut milk...I can just imagine the subtle aroma of this stew.

Suma of Veggie Platter shares another delicious recipe with us: She combines french beans and toor dal to make the vegetable preparation even richer in protein, and comes up with a tasty French Beans Sabji.

I used french beans too, and combined them with another popular Indian vegetable, the cauliflower or fulgobi. In Hindi, cauliflower is sometimes called just "gobi" or then called "fulgobi" (ful= flower) to distinguish it from "patta-gobi" or cabbage (patta= leaf).

Finally, an entry that wowed me by its unusual nature. It reminded me that no matter how many years I spend marveling at Indian regional food, I will keep discovering surprising new preparations. Here, Bee and Jai of Jugalbandi introduce us to Fajeto. A traditional dish from the Western Indian state of Gujarat, it is an unsual curry featuring mango pulp, yogurt and chickpea flour that by all accounts is delicious, delicious!

F is for Foogath: The simplest stir-fry (South-Indian style)

In my eyes, the most incredible recipes of Indian regional cooking are the delicious vegetable preparations that prompted me to start this series in the first place. Stir-fried vegetables are especially dear to my heart. They require little preparation other than chopping of the vegetables, and they retain the essential flavor of the vegetables while, at the same time, dressing it up with a spicy kick.

One such regional stir-fry is called foogath. I really have no idea what the term means, except that this preparation is from the coastal state of Goa, the land that brings us those other exotic-sounding curries like the "vindaloo" and "cafreal".

A few weeks ago, we made a typical North-Indian stir-fry and now, we are making some foogath, which certainly is a type of Southern Indian stir-fry, judging from the classic combination of mustard seeds and curry leaves. From what I understand, here are the essential components of a good foogath:
1. Tempering with mustard seeds, curry leaves and chilies,
2. Garnish with some grated coconut.

Simple and delicious, foogath is generally made with cabbage or french beans, but I see no reason why one can't make it with, say, cauliflower, or carrots or any combination of vegetables. The dish has a very subtle flavor and you can make it with as few or as many chilies as you like. The vegetables are cooked just until they are tender, so the fresh and delicate of this dish is what makes it so special for me.


serves about 4
1. Prepare the vegetables: Cut half a head of cauliflower into small florets. Cut 2 cups of french beans (green beans) into small pieces (if the beans are not tender, you might have to remove the strings first).
2. Make the tempering: Heat 1 tbsp oil, then add 1/2 tsp mustard seeds, 1/2 tsp cumin seeds, 2 fresh chilies cut into thirds, 1/4 cup minced onion, 5-6 curry leaves. Stir around for a few minutes to infuse the oil with all the spices.
3. Add 1/2 tsp turmeric and salt to taste, stir for a few seconds.
4. Stir in the vegetables. Add 1 tbsp water. Cover and cook on medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender. The idea is to let the vegetables steam in their own juices to retain as much of the flavor and nutrition as possible.
5. Turn off the heat. Stir in 2 tbsp grated fresh coconut (can use fresh-frozen). Squeeze on the juice of half a lemon (optional) and garnish with minced cilantro (optional).

The background on the foogath above is a place-mat printed with a drawing from the celebrated Indian cartoonist Mario Miranda. He is based in Goa, and his cartoons and line drawings are infused with the joy and spirit of the people of Goa. Last time I visited Goa, my dear childhood friend Chinu (who lives and works in Goa, the lucky lucky thing) gifted me a set of these place mats.

Here is another one, a more typical representation of Miranda's style, depicting an Indian wedding: check out the disgruntled bridegroom and the gaggle of relatives!

Goa is a fascinating place and would have to be my favorite destination in India. Some day, I will devote a whole post to this lovely land. With its endless beaches and joyful, laid-back residents, Goa provides an oasis in the hectic frenzy that is India. For some gorgeous pictures of vibrant Goan life and some delicious Goan recipes, you have to visit Mahek's blog.

Another Indian blogger, Deccanheffalump, also writes often of her travels through Goa...for instance, check out this description of a traditional Goan dessert to see why I am such a fan of her writing.

How do you serve this dish?
I love it best with some rice and dal for a simple home-style meal, but it would go well with rotis (flatbreads) too!

Fellow bloggers have come up with many delicious regional stir-fry recipes:

A specialty from the Northern state of Uttar Pradesh (UP)...
Carrots, Peas, and Potatoes with Dill from A Mad Tea Party,

A Marathi stir-fry with peanuts (we Marathis certainly love those peanuts!)...
Nutty Green Beans from Indian Food Rocks,

The popular South Indian poriyal...
Brussels Sprouts Poriyal from Manpasand,

A typical Bengali stir-fry method for greens called shaak...
Radish Greens Shaak from Bong Mom's Cookbook,

A traditional stir-fry from Kerela called thoran...
Spinach Thoran from Malabar Spices,

A Konkani stir-fry style called upkari...
Corn Upkari from Aayi's Recipes.

Previously on the A to Z of Indian Vegetables...
A is for Aloo Gobi: North-Indian Stir-Fry
B is for Bharli Mirchi: Stuffed Vegetables
C is for Carrot-Cashew Payasam: Desserts
D is for Dum ki Arbi: The Dum Method of Cooking
E is for Egg-Fried Rice: Rice and Vegetables

Sunday, January 28, 2007

A is for Aloo Gobi

The myriad cuisines of India all love their vegetables! Veggies are diced and sliced, grated and mashed, stir-fried and curried into hundreds of vegetable dishes. In this series, the A to Z of Indian Vegetables, we take an alphabetical journey through the various avatars of vegetables relished in Indian cuisine. For each letter, we will make a tasty vegetable dish that illustrates one manner in which vegetables are savored in India.

A is for Aloo Gobi: The simplest stir-fry (North-Indian style)
We kick-off the series with a crowd-pleaser. Aloo Gobi simply means potato-cauliflower, a combination of two beloved vegetables cooked together with some simple spices. The humble aloo gobi can be found on the menu of practically every Indian restaurant on the planet, although one might say that it is more of a North Indian style recipe, originally from the Northern state of Punjab. So aloo gobi is an example of a simple stir-fried vegetable dish, North-Indian style, and is homely enough for everyday meals, and loved enough to be served at a nice dinner.

There are dozens of recipes for making aloo gobi; in some cases, potato cubes and cauliflower florets are deep-fried (!) before being tossed with spices, in some recipes, you would add some tomato to the stir-fry resulting in a light curry. My version of aloo gobi is the simplest possible. It calls for very basic ingredients and not much oil. You do not need an extensive Indian pantry to make this dish: it only calls for 6 spices (from top to bottom in the picture): cumin seeds (1), red chili powder or cayenne pepper (2), turmeric (3), cumin powder, coriander powder (4 is a blend of cumin and coriander powder that I make at home but you can just use the separately ground spices as they are sold), garam masala (5).
The best part is that all these spices, except maybe garam masala, are available in just about any grocery store/ supermarket. And even garam masala is now available in many of the better food stores such as Whole Foods and spice markets such as Penzey's as well as Indian stores and International stores everywhere. You can make your own blend at home using a spice grinder too. The liberal use of garam masala is the hallmark of Punjabi cuisine.

You start making this dish with a little prep: Chop a small onion into thin slices, cut a cauliflower into bite-size florets and wash, peel and dice two potatoes into medium cubes. Then set out your spice bottles and we are ready to make some aloo gobi!

Aloo Gobi

(serves 4-5)
1 medium-large head of cauliflower, cut into bite-size florets
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 small onion, sliced
2 tbsp oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp red chili powder (cayenne pepper)
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp salt (or to taste)
1. A wide saucepan is ideal for making aloo gobi as it has a large surface area for the vegetables to come in contact with heat. Heat oil in the pan on medium heat. Add the cumin seeds and stir until they sizzle. This is called "tempering" the oil as the oil acquires a wonderful cumin flavor during this step.
2. Add the onion and stir-fry for a few minutes until onion is starting to brown at the edges.
3. Lower the heat and add in the spices from turmeric to coriander powder. Stir only a few seconds to get the spices coated with oil.
4. Add the potato and cauliflower and stir well to mix in the spices. Add the salt and garam masala.
5. Let the vegetables cook until tender. My usual method is to cover the pan and let the veggies cook in their own juices which are released due to the salt. The vegetables at the bottom of the pan get browned, and you keep stirring every 2-3 minutes to evenly cook the vegetables. If you feel like there is not enough steam building up and the vegetables are sticking at the bottom, add 1/4 cup of water. Insert a knife point or skewer into a potato cube to test for tenderness. Turn off the heat once vegetables are tender (do not over-cook).
6. Let the "subzi" (vegetable) rest for 10 minutes, then serve warm.

Variations on a theme: This is the simplest stir-fry and these are some easy ways to jazz it up...
1. Garnishes can take the dish to a whole new level. Minced cilantro is the easiest garnish for color and flavor. The other one is a squeeze of fresh lemon juice; this really brightens the dish. Both garnishes are added right after you turn off the heat after the dish is cooked.
2. Ginger makes a wonderful pairing with the vegetables and the spices. Take a knob of fresh ginger and peel it (I use the edge of a spoon to do this), then mince the ginger. Add one tsp of minced ginger at step 3 of the recipe.
3. Make this a mixed-vegetable dish by using only 1/2 cauliflower and 1 potato and instead adding 3/4 cup diced carrots, 1/2 cup green peas (frozen works great) and 3/4 cup of trimmed and chopped green beans.

How do you serve this dish? The traditional way is to (a) scoop it up with flatbreads like roti or naan and (b) eat it with some dal and steamed rice. But you can let your imagination run wild and eat it (c) stuffed into a pita, (d) on a salad bed (cucumber, tomato, radishes, chopped and tossed with some yogurt), (e) in a sandwich with a slice of cheese.

The humble aloo (potato) is beloved in Indian cuisine...and is combined with a variety of vegetables to make easy everyday stir-fry dishes. Here are some dishes made by fellow bloggers. You will see how each cook has his/her favorite combination of spices that go into a stir-fry :
aloo bhindi (potato-okra) from Creative Pooja,
aloo baingan (potato-eggplant) from My Dhaba,
aloo shimla mirch (potato-green pepper) from Arad-Daagh,
You can, of course, combine more than two vegetable for the stir-fry...such as:
aloo matar saag (potato-peas-spinach) from Food In The Main,
and you can leave potatoes out altogether and make a different combination, like this:
gobi-mutter (cauliflower-peas) from Saffron Trail,

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Happy Birthday V: An Indo-Chinese Feast

To celebrate V's birthday, some friends came over to join us for lunch. The menu: Indian-Chinese ! In decades past, Chinese cooking has become a major food trend in India, and as with all transplanted cuisines, there has been the evolution of a unique Indo-chinese fusion cuisine. Chinese food carts dot every city in India, and many Indian restaurants will obligingly include some Indo-chinese dishes on the menu. In the past several months, this trend has crossed over to NYC and if anyone would like to try it in a restaurant, I would suggest "Chinese Mirch" (28th Street and Lexington Avenue in Manhattan).
V loves Indian-Chinese and when you are the birthday boy, what you want is what you get, so this is the menu I made (I was a bit rushed with all the prep, so some of the photos are quite awful but they still give an idea of what the food looked like). All recipes are for 6-8 servings.
To start with, some Sweet corn soup, just perfect for this cold weather. It could not be simpler to make but is very hearty and comforting.
3 boxes frozen cut corn
2 green onions (green parts only), chopped
3 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp white vinegar
1 vegetable buillon cube (I use "Knorr" brand)
fresh ground pepper
For chilli relish
1/2 cup white vinegar
6 green chillies
Make the relish by mixing chopped green chillies and vinegar. Set aside. Cook the corn in 6 cups water till tender (I used a pressure cooker). Using a blender/ immersion blender, puree the corn, leaving some kernels intact. Add the soy sauce, green onions, sugar, vinegar, buillon cube and freshly ground pepper. Serve hot topped with a spoonful of chilli relish.

The first appetizer:
Korean pancakes
This one is not Indian-chinese at all, but it uses all the ingredients of a spring roll and so fit in very well with the menu. I participated in blogging-by-mail 3 and Sima generously sent me a huge package of Korean Pancake Mix. I mixed 2 cups of pancake mix with 1 grated zucchini, 1 chopped green pepper and 2 chopped green onions, and added water to make a thick batter. Then I made mini-pancakes in a non-stick pan. For a dipping sauce, I mixed equal parts of red chilli paste (store-bought) and soy sauce. The result is a delicious appetizer just bursting with veggies!

The second appetizer:
Gobi Manchurian This is everyone's absolute favorite and I was so thrilled that it turned out tasting just like the real deal. I made it in the appetizer style, not very saucy, and the sauce given in the recipe just serves to coat the florets and make them really tasty.
For florets
1 large head cauliflower, cut into neat florets
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornflour
salt to taste
oil for frying
For sauce
5 cloves garlic, minced fine
1 inch piece of ginger, minced fine
5-6 green onions (green+white parts), minced
5 green chillies, minced
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp tomato ketchup
2 tbsp oil
1/2 cup minced cilantro
1. Toss the florets with soy sauce and ginger-garlic paste and set aside for 1-2 hours
2. Mix the all-purpose flour and cornflour with enough water to make a thick batter. Add salt to taste.
3. Dip the marinated florets in the batter and deep fry till golden brown. Drain on paper towels.
4. To make the sauce, heat 2 tbsp oil in a skillet. Fry the ginger, garlic, green onions, green chillies for under a minute. Take off heat, then stir in the soy sauce and ketchup.
5. Toss together the fried florets, sauce and minced cilantro. Serve immediately.

The entree ...
Mushroom-Egg fried rice This is a simple stir-fry of rice with veggies, with strips of omelet adding to the nutrition and the heartiness of the dish.
1 1/2 cups basmati rice
1 green pepper, sliced fine
4 green onions, chopped
1 carrot, cut into matchsticks
2 cups mushrooms, chopped
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 veg buillon cube (I use "Knorr" brand)
3 eggs
salt and pepper to taste
1. Wash the rice in 3-4 changes of cold water. Add 2 1/2 cups water to the rice and cook till just tender. It is important that the rice is not overcooked and mushy.
2. Heat 2 tbsp oil and quickly stir-fry the green onions, green pepper, carrots and mushrooms. Add the rice, soy sauce, pepper, buillon cube and mix well till everything is heated through.
3. Beat the eggs with some salt and pepper. Make omelets with the eggs. Cut the omelets into strips and serve atop the rice.

Now for the sweet ending to the meal:
Dessert: Dulce de leche flan There are no authentic desserts in this fusion cuisine, so I went with a dessert that V loves. I normally make a very plain and easy version of caramel custard but this time I wanted to try something new, so I chose a recipe for Dulce de leche flan made by Angela of "A spoonful of sugar" for a sugar high friday many months ago (how I love these foodie events! I can always refer back to the round-ups for some great recipes.) I followed the recipe exactly, boiling an intact can of condensed milk for 3 hours to get the dulce de leche. This is what happens to condensed milk after that treatment:
Nice and caramelized! The flan was very easy to put together and the results were astounding! I don't have a picture of the flan (people gobbled it up before I had a chance!) but you can see it on Angela's blog. We all loved it...this recipe is a keeper!
That was a great party, and here's to V having a wonderful year ahead!

Saturday, April 30, 2005

Bombay Street Food: Pav Bhaji

Bombay- now there's a city that loves tucking in! A teeming metropolis of about 20 million people (bigger than most European nations), it makes even New York City feel like a sleepy little town! At any point in time, millions of Bombayites are out in the streets eating. Even at midnight (especially at midnight), hordes of people crowd at little restaurants and roadside stalls to tuck into spicy chaat and crispy dosas and creamy fruit-flavored kulfis and above all, pav bhaji.

Whenever I visit Bombay, the main item on the agenda is : Eat Sukh Sagar Pav Bhaji. Sukh Sagar is a little restaurant near the Chowpatty beach in South Bombay, and it serves simply the most awesome snacks, the likes of which evoke feelings usually reserved for religious epiphanies.

What, then, is Pav Bhaji? It is a spicy vegetable stew that you sop up with pillowy bread. The pav bhaji chef (bhaiyya) stands at the mouth of the restaurant with a huge cast-iron pan in front of him. He is surrounded by bowls of chopped veggies and an alarming number of packets of Amul brand butter. The bhaiyya will start sauteeing the veggies together with boiled potatoes, spices and enormous dollops of butter and mash the whole mixture into a sizzling vegetable dish. He will then serve this bhaji with rolls of bread called pav that have been likewise drowned in butter. The final touch: the dish is topped with raw onion slices and lemon wedges. The whole mess is simply heaven on a plate. Or a heart attack on a plate, depending on your point of view.

Which brings me to the misery that overcomes people who move out of Bombay and would have to fly 24 hours to get to our beloved Sukh Sagar. What do we do? The best solution would be to catch the next flight out of JFK but an alternative solution is to make pav bhaji at home. Every Indian store sells pav bhaji masala, a dry mix of some 18 or so spices. The method is simplicity itself: saute onions and ginger-garlic, add veggies and boiled potates, tomato and pav bhaji masala; then taste it and wail about how it is not like Sukh Sagar's. It tastes OK but is just not the real McCoy.

I lived my life in sub-standard-pav-bhaji-hood, until last December. That's when I was visiting my parents and my Mom's close pal Aunt Madhuri dropped in with some home-made pav bhaji for me. I was like "yeah, thanks" because, you know, Auntie M is an amazing cook, but is hardly the Sukh Sagar Bhaiyya. Then my mother started reheating the pav-bhaji and I started jumping for joy...the aroma was exactly like that of the genuine article. And it tasted so darn close too! I accosted Aunt M and wheedled the recipe out of her and was dismayed at how plain and simple (and almost wrong!) it sounded. She insisted that onions are not to be sauteed for the bhaji (what!!) because they lend a sweetish non-authentic flavor. Her method used a lot of cauliflower which again seemed totally wrong. She used Everest brand pav bhaji masala so anyway, I bought a couple of packets and returned to NYC.

Once here, I barely waited for the jet lag to subside and then set out to make pav bhaji exactly as per good ol' M. The whole time I was making it I was pretty sure it was going to be a disaster (I wondered bitterly if M was protecting her culinary secrets by giving out bogus recipes) but I persevered and suddenly at the last stage of cooking, there was a miracle: my kitchen smelled like, you guessed it, Sukh Sagar. Hallelujah Hallelujah, praise to aunt Madhuri and her pav bhaji recipe. Here it is, for about 4-6 servings.

Pav Bhaji


1 small head of cauliflower, cut into florets (about 3-4 cups)
3 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
2 tbsp. oil
1 green bell pepper, minced
1/2 tsp. turmeric powder
1 tsp. chili powder or red chili paste
1 tsp. ginger-garlic paste
salt to taste
2-3 cups tomato puree
1/2 cup peas (fresh or frozen)...optional
1 tbsp. Everest pav bhaji masala (or more to taste)
1 tbsp. butter

  1. Boil the cauliflower and potatoes till tender and set aside. I usually do this in a pressure cooker.
  2. Heat oil in a deep saucepan and saute the pepper. Add ginger-garlic paste and saute some more.
  3. Add turmeric powder, chili powder to taste and salt to taste. Saute for a few seconds.
  4. Add tomato puree, peas, boiled potatoes and cauliflower, pav bhaji masala and butter.
  5. Keep sauteeing and mashing it together till it is a smooth mixture, adding water as required (you can use a potato masher to help you along). Be aware that the mixture can spurt up as it boils, so keep a lid on it while you are not actively stirring it. Simmer for 20-25 minutes to really get the flavors to meld together.

You have to keep tasting and adjusting salt, masala and tomato till you like the balance between the tomato-ey tang and the heat of the masala.

Serve with:
1. More pats of butter (as much as you can dare really, don't be chicken now),
2. Finely sliced/ chopped onions, minced cilantro and wedges of lemon.
3. The genuine pav-bhaji is served with real Bombay laadi pav...slabs of bread, so named because the rolls are sold as entire slabs and you break the rolls off as required. This bread is so yeasty and terrific! I serve it with any crusty bread that is chewy on the inside, like ciabatta or country boule or French rolls. I don't recommend burger buns at all...they are too soft and pasty. Try and find "real" bread in a bakery :)

1. Fry the bread in some butter first. For an even spicier result, make masala pav...melt some butter in a skillet. Sprinkle pav bhaji masala in it, then fry the bread in this spicy butter until sizzling and golden.
2. To make cheese pav-bhaji, top the pav bhaji with some shredded cheese. In India, the brand used is Amul the US, Monterey Jack cheese comes close to this. Or try Cheddar. (Thanks Anon, for reminding me of this variation)
3. Some readers have suggested frozen mixed vegetables to increase the veggie content of the pav bhaji. I think beans and carrots would work well.
4. A reader named Manasi suggests the addition of some garam masala to the bhaji to give it an even more authentic taste. She also recommends MDH brand pav bhaji masala.
5. Another anonymous reader suggests adding Priya's Tomato Garlic Pickle for added pizzazz.

I hope you enjoy this taste of Bombay! I thank everyone who has tried this recipe, and takes the time to leave their valuable feedback, often with great suggestions and variations.