Wednesday, January 31, 2007

JFI: Ginger-Lemon Rasam

This month's theme for Jihva for Ingredients, hosted by Rosie of What's the recipe today Jim? is the...herb? vegetable? spice? ginger. A knobby, gnarly, ugly root that is beloved by so many cuisines. Just the word ginger gives me a warm, cozy, delicious feeling. [It also makes me want to run and hide from my parents' crazy, over-sized, hyperactive Doberman Pinscher named "Ginger" but that is a story for another day]

Truly, ginger brings a lot to the table. My favorite way to consume it in vast quantities these days is via Trader Joe's triple ginger cookies, addictive little morsels jammed with fresh, ground and crystallized sugar. These are the only cookies in the world that I enjoy eating on a regular basis (apart from Parle G, that is).

Today, I am making the simplest preparation with ginger: what should be properly called a rasam-inspired ginger-lemon dal, for it uses more dal than rasams do. A simple lentil preparation with typical Southern Indian spices, it contains plenty of lemon juice and minced fresh ginger. With some freshly steamed rice, it makes a homely meal. By itself, sipped as a soup, it has magical properties: it can clear up sinuses, banish the winter blues, perk up jaded palates and warm you from the inside out.

Oh, and I also want to share my favorite ginger-related kitchen tip: peeling ginger with a small spoon. It really works!

Ginger-Lemon Rasam

(serves 4-5)
1. Soak 3/4 cup of toor dal for 10-15 minutes, then rinse it well and cook it on the stove-top or pressure cooker and set aside.
2. Heat 1 tsp oil. Make the tempering using: 1/2 tsp mustard seeds, 1/2 tsp cumin seeds, pinch of asafoetida, 5-6 curry leaves, 1 dry red chili broken in half.
3. Add 1 tbsp very finely minced fresh ginger, 1/2 tsp turmeric and stir, then immediately add 1/4 cup diced tomato (fresh or canned) and salt to taste.
4. Stir in 1 tsp sambar powder and the cooked dal.
5. Add 2-3 cups of water to make a fairly dilute dal. Bring to a boil and simmer for 4-5 minutes.
6. Remove from heat, then add the juice of one fresh lemon and garnish with minced cilantro. Serve piping hot as a soup or a dal!

Thanks, Rosie, for hosting! I look forward to some great gingery goodness in the round-up!

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Working on a new look...

Just a little note to say: I just switched to the "new" blogger, and over the next few days, you will see me struggling to change the look of One Hot Stove a little bit, just in time for its second birthday! I want to use the cute woolen Marathi thali as a header symbolizing the regional Indian cuisine that features so often on this blog. Like it? The fact that I know less than nothing about creating webpages is a little bit of a problem, but I am taking it all in stride and treating this as a learning experience. Please bear with me as the blog is under renovation, and as usual, all comments and suggestions are welcome!

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, January 27, 2007

Weekend Dog Blogging, Weekend Jabber

Last weekend, we got some snow on the ground (fairly unusual for St. Louis, I hear), and our dog run (dog park) turned into a winter wonderland. We tried to take a picture of Dale standing still for a moment...
But Dale takes the "run" part of "dog run" seriously, and zoomed off in a blur of fur!
Don't forget to visit Sweetnicks and see all the pups at play!

And now for some a lot of weekend jabber...
A couple of days ago, I got the opportunity to attend a lovely tasting- for wine and sweets Valentine's day gift packages from Hollyberry Baking, a lovely little baking company right here in St. Louis. Hollyberry is known for their delicious all-natural home-style cookies, and this year, they are pairing their sweets with some amazing wines. It is quite the trend to pair wine with rich desserts but a bit unusual to pair wine with homely comforting desserts like cookies and brownies. It was fun to eat kid-at-heart treats with a grown-up spin of wine on the side. I also got to taste a St. Louis specialty dessert: gooey butter cake, which certainly lived up to its name by being very gooey and very rich! Click here to see all of Hollyberry's Valentine gifts.

Speaking of rich desserts, I hope all you chocoholics out there will visit David Lebovitz's blog and drool over the Chocolate by brand mega-round-up in four parts! I can see many recipes there that I am just dying to try out.

New recipes tried this week: only one, unfortunately, as it turned out to be a pretty busy work week: I made this Spanish Tortilla Loaf from an old issue of Vegetarian Times borrowed from the library. I do like the clean look of this magazine and it is always a fun read. Now here is the funny thing: EVERY SINGLE issue of "Vegetarian Times" that I have ever picked up in a public library (whether in NYC or St. Louis) has a few recipe pages missing because some unscrupulous reader tore them out! This has not been the case with any other food magazine. I can tell you that as a vegetarian, I find this quite puzzling and distressing! Anyway, I love the idea of the spanish tortilla (open-faced potato omelet). I followed this recipe to the letter (*very* unusual for me) and loved that it is one compact loaf pan that goes into the oven to bake in a bain marie.
The baking took 10-15 minutes longer than the recipe indicated but the result was delicious! I served the tortilla loaf in hearty slices with some roasted garlic salsa for a heavenly one-dish meal. This low-maintenance loaf will be perfect for a tapas party or served in little bites as an appetizer.

Check in on One Hot Stove tomorrow for the start of a brand new series: the A-Z of Indian Vegetables!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Waiter...there is some Dhokli in my Dal!

Three stellar food blogs- Cooksister, The Passionate Cook and Spitoon Extra, have come together to create a brand new food blogging event that is designed to be easy and all-inclusive. It is called "Waiter There's Something In My..." and January's theme, fit for the chilly season, is STEW!

When I read the theme, my first thought was, "Oh, Indian food does not have too many stews", and my second thought was, "Oh, but Indian food is ALL stews", for what else are curries and dals, but stews? Stews are a food that can be expansively defined as anything liquidy with big chunks of something in it, whether meat or vegetables or what-have-you. After much deliberation about whether to try a new exotic stew, maybe an African peanut stew, or whether to try a vegetarian version of "chicken soup with dumplings", I came full circle and settled on something familiar, comforting and low-maintainance, for those are the exact three qualities why stews are so well-beloved.

I decided to put a spin on a delicious Indian stew called Dal-Dhokli. It is a regional specialty, coming from the Western state of Gujarat. In the tradition of Gujarati food, it consists of a sweet-tangy-spicy split pea stew (dal) in which you cook little whole-wheat dumplings (dhokli). The result is a nutritious one-dish meal which has melt-in-the-mouth wheat dumplings swimming in a tasty protein-rich broth. I put a spin on the traditional version by adding chopped fresh spinach to the dumplings, which adds color, flavor and nutrition to this dish.

Spinach Dal-Dhokli

(serves 3-4 as a main dish, prep time: 45 minutes to an hour)
For the Dal...
1 cup toor dal (split yellow lentils)
2 tbsp roasted peanuts
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 cup diced tomatoes (fresh or canned)
5-6 curry leaves
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
pinch of asafoetida
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 tbsp tamarind taste
1 tbsp jaggery (unrefined cane sugar)
salt to taste
2 tbsp oil
For the Dhokli (dumplings)
2/3 cup atta (fine whole-wheat flour)
1 + 1/2 cup packed fresh spinach leaves
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp red chili powder
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp sugar
salt to taste
1. Soak the toor dal in hot water for 15-30 minutes. Rinse several times, then cook in a pressure cooker or on the stove-top until tender. Set aside.
2. Dough for the dumplings: Finely chop the spinach. Add the rest of the ingredients for the dumplings and knead together to make a firm dough. Cover with a damp kitchen towel and set aside.
3. Making the dal: Heat oil in a large saucepan. Temper with mustard seeds, cumin seeds, curry leaves, asafoetida and stir for a few seconds. Add onion and stir until onion is translucent. Add ingredients from turmeric to garam masala and stir for a few seconds.
4. Stir in the tomato, cooked dal, tamarind paste, jaggery and salt and bring the dal to a boil. Taste and adjust for balance of sweet, salty and sour. Keep the dal simmering.
5. Now, make the dhoklis. Divide the dough into four parts. Using some extra flour, roll out each part as thinly as possible, then cut into diamond shapes, or any shapes you like.
Add the dough shapes to the boiling dal and cook them for 5-8 minutes, or until the dough is tender and cooked through.
6. Let the dal-dhokli rest for 5 minutes, then serve the stew piping hot, drizzled with ghee (clarified butter).

Dal-dhokli is a popular dish in the food-blogosphere. Check out these traditional versions from Luvbites and The green jackfruit. I found two exciting variations too: Dal dhokli stuffed with potato presented in a beautiful step-by-step manner on My Khazana of Recipes and mutter dhokli (dhoklis in pea curry) from Garam Masala.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Weekend Dog Blogging, Weekend Jabber

Dale shows off his new scarf while lounging around at home on a cold winter day...

See all the puppies playing at Sweetnicks, where they gather together for weekend dog blogging.

And now for some weekend jabber...
I'm still going nuts over the JFI Coconut round-up: Last week, I tried the Brussels Sprouts stew contributed by Menu Today. Believe it or not, I only tasted brussels sprouts for the first time last month at a Christmas dinner at the home of a wonderful friend, where brussels sprouts were served in a delicate, creamy sauce. It was love at first bite and I knew I has to try cooking this cute little vegetable. The stew was just the thing for a crisp, cold night. Lazy as I am, I simplified the recipe by not pre-cooking or stuffing the brussels sprouts. I started by frying onions and tomatoes, then adding trimmed, halved brussels sprouts and simmering them with the coconut-spice paste. The result was divine, and very rich with the combination of cashews and coconut. What I really love about the recipe is the way a local vegetable that is not found in India has been adapted to Indian cooking with such great results.

Last Saturday, we enjoyed a very low-maintainance, informal and delicious taco night with two good friends. Now, I do enjoy spending long hours making food for friends and family, no doubt about it, but every once in a while, it is great to take the pressure off and take shortcuts shamelessly. I would call it Semi-Homemade if I did not hate that phrase with such a vengeance! :)
I bought two kinds of taco shells: hard crispy taco shells (before serving, just throw them in a warm oven for 5 minutes to freshen them up), and soft flour tortillas (before serving, wrap them in a paper towel and microwave for 15-20 seconds). I prepared two protein-rich fillings: One was a delicious recipe for Chili Pinto Beans shared by Susan of Fatfree Vegan Kitchen. Susan's recipe calls for pressure-cooking, making it the fastest way ever to get nicely seasoned beans on the table. The other filling was a mock chicken filling. I used Morningstar's meal starter chicken strips. The first time I tasted these chicken strips, I almost spat them out because they tasted too much like the real thing! I am not one for eating fake meat every day, but it is nice to use once in a while. I don't like that these chicken strips are pre-seasoned, though. Why call it "meal-starter" if you sell it pre-seasoned? Anyway, I sauteed some onions and peppers, and then stirred in the mock chicken, and seasoned with some oregano, cumin, cayenne pepper, black pepper and lime juice.

Next comes the tray of fixin's...the most fun part of the taco party. The fixin's I used: Shredded lettuce, minced cilantro, shredded Monterey-jack cheese, sour cream, hot sauce, two types of store-bought salsas (one a mild and sweet corn-chile salsa, the other a tangy and fiery habanero-lime salsa), and roasted peppers. Roasting the peppers is easy (not to mention more energy-efficient) in a toaster oven. Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees F. Spray a small baking tray. Wash and dry 10-12 small sweet Italian peppers, then toss them lightly with some olive oil. Bake, turning once or twice, till peppers are soft and have charred spots. Cool, then slice into strips. The peppers were delightfully sweet and melt-in-the-mouth!
Apart from soaking the pinto beans and starting the pressure cooker, all the prep for taco night took me an hour from start to finish, including clean-up. What a divinely lazy way to entertain! Once the food is laid out, everyone just assembles their own tacos. If I were to complicate this party, I would have made margaritas, homemade salsa, some tortilla soup, nachos as appetizers and maybe a flan for dessert. But simple can be good too!

Finally, a feast for the eyes: Go look at the most beautiful food-blog photographs of December at the Does my blog look good in this? event hosted by Annie of Bon Appegeek.

Enjoy the weekend, everyone!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

SHF 27: World Peace Cookies

For me, Sugar High Friday (SHF) is the sweetest event on the food-blogging calendar. Over the last couple of years, it has pushed me to try my hand at making some delicious desserts instead of taking the coward's way out and doing what I would normally do: buying a cheesecake at the local bakery or a tin of gulab-jamuns at the Indian store in Queens.

This month, SHF is being hosted by celebrated pastry chef and cookbook author (not to mention celebrated food blogger), David Lebovitz. The theme of the month, an appropriately crowd-pleasing one for the beginning of the year, is Chocolate, by brand. So, you make a dessert with chocolate, but discuss the brand of chocolate that you bought, and the reason you chose it.

And as luck would have, I was already dying to try out a chocolate cookie that calls for both bittersweet chocolate and cocoa powder, and would be just perfect for this event. I first saw World Peace Cookies on the blog I love Milk and Cookies. Even to my sweet-tooth-less self, these cookies looked decadent and delicious. They are from the book Baking: From my home to yours by Dorie Greenspan, probably the most popular baking book that was published in 2006. I myself bought a copy of the book for the most enthusiastic and competent baker in my life, my friend Laureen.

The premise of world peace cookies is that they are so delicious that a daily dose would go a long way in ensuring a happy disposition and maintaining world peace. Not a bad thing these days!

I heaved a sigh of relief when I read the theme of this SHF. Buying chocolate is all an entirely confusing business to me and I can finally expect some help. For instance, this is what happened when I went to the local gourmet food store. I found the baking aisle, and came face-to-face with a towering wall of chocolate bars and cocoa tins. I could see 4-5 different brands of bittersweet chocolate, and the most expensive one was almost three times as expensive as the cheapest. I am completely willing to pay the price for good quality chocolate, but is price really a good indication of quality in case of chocolate? I don't like the taste of Hershey's chocolate (to my palate, it has an unpleasant fatty after-taste), so that was out. After much hemming and hawing, I tossed a coin between two regular supermarket brands, Ghiradelli and Nestle, and opted for the Nestle bittersweet chocolate bar. So I have no reason for choosing this brand except that I could not stand there all day staring at chocolate bars.

Where cocoa powder was concerned, the major decision was whether to use natural cocoa powder, which is distinctly acidic and bitter-tasting, or Dutch-processed (alkali-processed) cocoa powder, which is darker and milder. In my own highly unscientific scans of blogs and web-pages, bakers seem to prefer Dutch-processed cocoa. However, all the various tins in the store contained natural cocoa. I suspect that this has to do with people wanting to buy anything that proclaims "natural" on its label. In the end, I bought the brand Valrhona which is certainly a very high-end cocoa powder if nothing else. It said nothing about the processing at all on the box, so I doubt if it is dutch-processed.

The recipe for World Peace Cookies can be found on several websites, including those of public radio stations and national newspapers and on various food blogs. I used this very detailed recipe provided by Anita of the beautiful pastry blog Dessert First.

The cookie calls for a very short list of ingredients, and is relatively simple to make. It does not call for eggs at all, resulting in a buttery shortbread-like cookie.

  • I started by setting out the butter to come to room temperature (took a few hours in this season). 
  • Then I used the food processor to chop the chocolate bar into little pieces. This is way easier than chopping the chocolate by hand, although the food processor made a frightful noise as it chopped the chocolate, and quite a bit of the chocolate ended up as chocolate dust rather than the small bits I was aspiring towards. It's all good (I think :)). 
  • Then I sifted the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder together and set it aside.
  • The subsequent steps called for an electric mixer but I don't own one, so I just did it all by hand, first creaming the butter, then mixing in white sugar, brown sugar, some sea salt and vanilla extract. 
  • Then the flour mixture was gently mixed in. Boy, was the dough sandy and crumbly.
  • I formed two logs and put them in the refrigerator overnight.
  • Once the logs are ready, baking the cookies only takes minutes. The hard part was slicing the really started to fall apart, but I just patched together the pieces and moved right along. 
  •  The cookies are baked for only 12 minutes, and they emerge from the oven looking completely wet and under-done. But as they cooled, they did firm up and were just perfect in the end. 


World peace cookies are more chocolatey than almost anything I have ever tasted. I sent them off with V to share with his colleagues (it is unwise to keep these cookies around the house unless you are trying to put on a few pounds fast) and everyone seemed to enjoy them.

Next time, I will use these cookies to make a grown-up ice cream sandwich by sandwiching some very good-quality vanilla ice cream between them. I think the slightly salty, rich chocolate taste of the cookies would pair well with the cold creamy vanilla.

See the wonderful round-up here.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Weekend Dog Blogging, Weekend Jabber

Dale, the official mascot of One Hot Stove, is making an appearance today, after many months. He is settling well into his new home, and every weekend I'll try and show you a little bit of his new life in St. Louis. Dalu's favorite thing about the new home: the sunshine that streams in through the huge windows! Dale is a sun-worshipper, every morning he catches the first sunbeam that comes in, and follows it around all day, napping here and there. See that lovely tan he has acquired? :)

A convenient square of sun right by his bed...

After a while, it is too much work to hold up his head (who turned on the gravity??)...

Later, a nap in the patch of sun right by the radiator...two sources of heat on a cold winter morning!

Please go visit all the puppies at the Weekend Dog Blogging round-up over at Sweetnicks!

And time for some weekend jabber...

Everyone who loves coconut (or even likes it just a little) should definitely visit Ashwini, who did a brilliant job hosting the Jihva: Coconut event. See the round-up for over 70 delicious coconut-ty soups, snacks, curries, desserts and more! I was excited to see dozens of recipes in the round-up that I cannot wait to try for myself. I already made Indosungod's Eggplant in a buttermilk sauce and it was absolutely delicious, even with my less-than-ideal substitution of dried coconut powder for fresh coconut.

The explosion in Indian food blogs over the past few months is so delightful...for me, it is a peek into home kitchens from many different regions of India. This is the sort of opportunity that money cannot buy! Every week, I try and make a couple of the delicious recipes that I see on other blogs, Indian or not. A few days ago, I made Cabbage Rice using the recipe shared by Vani of Mysoorean. The recipe calls for cooking shredded cabbage, then tossing it with delicious "palya powder" (Vani's mom's recipe) and cooked rice. Simple and delicious! A regional home-style recipe that I will make often.

So, do you prefer the food of "India" or of "Bharat"? What's the difference, you ask? "G" from the new Missouri blog Vyanjanaa tells us in a great little essay.

Speaking of Missouri food blogs, I have added a little list of the "St. Louis and nearby" food blogs to the side-bar. It is a small but vibrant community! Actually, Alanna organized a little treat for the St. Louis-and-nearby food bloggers in October, a wonderful food-styling and photography workshop, which I managed to attend even though (a) I was on a blogging break and (b) not even living in St. Louis yet! It was very exciting to meet many of the local bloggers, and also to meet a much-admired food blogger in person, Kalyn, who was a guest at this workshop. Kalyn has written a synopsis of the workshop, in case y'all want to read about the fun that we had!

Finally, congratulations, Kalyn...her blog, Kalyn's Kitchen, won the Best Food Blog: Theme prize in the 2006 Food Blog awards! I am so happy for you!

Whew, that was a lot of yackety-yak on my part...but then, I have much to talk about after a long break. Hope you like the weekend jabber section, and enjoy the weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Egg Pilaf

This is my entry to the Feed-A-Hungry-Child-Campaign, a group book idea by VKN of My Dhaba.

Egg Pilaf is one of my favorite comfort foods. And for a comfort food, it is prepared very easily and quickly! A blend of lightly spiced basmati rice and chunks of hard-boiled eggs, egg pilaf is a nutritious one-dish meal. Tossing in some nuts and raisins elevates it to a festive dish that makes ordinary weeknights special. The beauty of egg pilaf is that all the ingredients are pantry staples, so it can be put together even at times when grocery shopping is way overdue.

You can use any type of garam masala for this dish, whether home-made or store-bought, but my own favorite is my Mom's blend that is so aromatic that I call it Magic Masala. You simply take equal parts of cinnamon, cardamom and cloves, say, 1/4 cup each cardamom seeds and cloves, and 1 big cinnamom stick, toast them together on low heat to coax out the flavors, and then dry-grind the spices together in a spice blender to a fine powder. I store the powder in a little airtight jar in the freezer and it tastes fresh for a long time.

Egg Pilaf

Egg Pilaf

(serves 3-4 as a main dish)
4 large Eggs
1 cup Basmati or other long-grained rice
1 large Onion
1 tsp Cumin seeds
1 tsp Ginger-garlic paste (or minced ginger and garlic)
1/2 tsp Turmeric powder
1/2 tsp Red chili powder (cayenne pepper)
1 tsp Garam masala
Salt to taste
2 tbsp Cashewnut pieces
2 tbsp Golden raisins
2 tbsp oil
2 tbsp minced cilantro (optional, for garnish)
2 tbsp minced green parts of scallions (optional, for garnish)

1. Hard-boil the eggs: Place eggs in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring water to a boil, then simmer for 12 minutes. Drain the hot water, then rinse the eggs in cold water. Peel the eggs when they are cool enough to handle and set aside.
2. Cut the onion into half from root to tip, then cut each half into thin slices.
3. Place 2 1/2 cups of water in a pot to heat.
4. Heat oil in a large pot, and stir in the cumin seeds. Add sliced onion and fry first on medium-high heat for the edges of the onion to brown, and then on medium-low heat till the onions are very soft and caramelized. Browning the onions gives them a rich, deep flavor, so don't skip this step.
5. Now add the ginger-garlic, turmeric, chili powder, garam masala, salt and fry for about a minute or so. Stir in the cashews and raisins, then add the rice and hot water.
6. Cover the pot and simmer until most of the water is absorbed and the rice is tender (test a grain with your finger).
7. Let the rice rest for 15 minutes, so that the water is completely absorbed. Then fluff the rice with a fork, and toss with slices of boiled eggs. Garnish with cilantro and scallions.

1. If you are watching your cholesterol intake, remove and discard the egg yolks and use only sliced egg whites.
2. Egg pilaf pairs well with yogurt raita (salad).

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Grub For Thought

One of my favorite things about our new neighborhood is the big, airy public library that is just around the corner (lucky lucky me). I was especially overjoyed to see the generous aisles devoted to cookbooks, including shelves upon shelves of vegetarian cookbooks. One of the books I have been reading over the new year is Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen by Anna Lappe and Bryant Terry.

Lappe and Terry define Grub as wholesome food that is good for the body and good for the food that is sustainably raised and locally procured. As opposed to mass-produced, highly processed food. The first part of the book talks about the principles that the authors believe in, and tips on how to incorporate "grub" into our kitchens. The second half consists of seasonal recipes.

Did the book tell me anything I was not already aware of? Well, not really. By now, the politics of food has been discussed in magazines, newspapers and on local radio, and most of us are already aware of "grub" in our own ways. I know that I certainly get angry when I think of mega-corporations taking over my kitchen. And most people I know do feel sad about living in times where a contaminated batch of spinach from one factory causes illness in five states across the continent. Still, at the beginning of the new year, the book was a reminder to cook and eat with consciousness.

Some tips and reminders from the book:
1. Our food dollars are powerful: we can use them to influence the world around us.
2. The extra time and money spent in procuring "grub" (rather than reaching for the closest mass-produced food product) is an investment in precious things: our health and the future of our planet.
3. The average American household throws 14% of its food into the trash (i.e., we waste nearly a sixth of the food we buy). So, wasting less food would be the first (and easiest) step towards a green kitchen.
4. Buy from Farmers Markets as far as possible, and try to buy fruits and veggies that are in season. How do you know what fruits and vegetables are in season? Here is where the book provided a great tip (if you live in the US): On the internet, search for your state's department of agriculture (eg. Google "Missouri Department of Agriculture"). The Department of Agriculture website provides a host of resources, like the locations of farmers markets, as well as harvest calenders.

Here, for instance, is the Harvest Calendar for Missouri:

Winter has lean pickings, but I am waiting for spring and summer and for a host of produce to come into season! If you live in St. Louis, don't forget to check out Veggie Venture, where Alanna has put together a tremendously useful list of several local food sources.

One of the recipes from "Grub" caught my eye: spicy barbecued tofu. I love eating tofu, but don't cook it nearly as much as I would like to. In this recipe, the tofu is pressed, shallow-fried to a golden brown, then drenched in a home-made barbeque sauce and baked to perfection. This is probably the tastiest tofu I have ever eaten, and I knew I had to share the recipe with you (my adaptation of it, anyway).

Barbeque Tofu

(adapted from Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen by Anna Lappe and Bryant Terry)

served 2-3 as a main course

Prepare the tofu:
1. Pressing
: Start with 1 block of extra-firm tofu (I used Trader Joe's). Drain out the water and wrap the block of tofu in a clean freshly-laundered kitchen towel. Place in a plate/ bowl, and weigh down the tofu to press out as much liquid as possible. I did this by balancing an empty heavy pasta pot on the wrapped tofu, and placing 5 lb packets of lentils and flour in the pot. Press the tofu for 1-2 hours.
2. Slicing: Hold the block of tofu sideways, then cut into three slices. Cut each slice across one diagonal, and then the other, such that you get 12 small triangles from one block of tofu.
2. Frying the tofu: Heat 2-3 tbsp olive oil in a non-stick skillet. Fry the slices of tofu (in batches if necessary) to get them golden-brown on each side (takes several minutes).

Prepare the marinade: This can be done while the tofu is being pressed. A good barbecue sauce has such a complexity of flavors...this is what I used (with the original recipe suggestions in brackets).
Base: Canned tomato sauce 3 tbsp + soy sauce (tamari) 5 tbsp
Sweetness: Honey (maple syrup) 3 tbsp
Spice: Cumin powder 1/2 tsp
Acidity: Lemon juice (lime juice) 1 tsp + Apple cider vinegar 2 tbsp
Smoky flavor + heat: 1 dried chipotle chili (1 canned chili in chipotle sauce)
+ 1 tbsp olive oil to form an emulsion

Now, I entirely eyeballed the proportions of the marinade ingredients, and I would suggest tasting as you go along to find the right balance you like. In the end, the sauce was finger-licking good, way better than any store-bought BBQ sauce that I have tried.

Baking the tofu: Place fried tofu in a baking dish and pour the marinade over it. Cover dish with a foil and bake at 350 degrees F for one hour, turning pieces half-way through baking. The 12 pieces of tofu fit snugly in one layer in a standard 9x9 baking dish:

Tofu Tangram, anyone?

I served up the barbeque tofu with some smashed garlicky roasted potatoes (potatoes and garlic can be roasted in the same oven, while the tofu is baking). All in all, a delicious and off-beat Sunday lunch:

It was nice to start off the new year with some resolutions to eat and live better. But Alanna shares a cartoon depicting the resolution that beats all resolutions: Check it out!

Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Year 2007!

The table is set in anticipation of a year of meals big and small...

Wishing everyone a wonderful new year ahead! I hope 2007 brings abundance and joy to your table.

This is my entry for the January Centerpiece of the Month event: read about it here. It is a new event started by Janelle of Talk of Tomatoes.

This centerpiece: I bought two wine glasses back from the Czech Republic and found that they are actually too tall and unwieldy to be used to drink wine from. So here, I packed some daisies (stems trimmed short) into each and placed them on my tiny dining table as a fresh floral centerpiece. It brought some instant cheer to the room. One bunch of flowers is enough for two glasses.

The inspiration for tucking flowers into stemware came from an advertisement that I saw on the side of a bus in New York City, for this Margarita Bouquet.

These flowers lasted three whole weeks! I changed the water every 2-3 days and made sure that there were no leaves immersed in the water where they could decay. This helped keep this arrangement fresh for a long time.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Jihva for COCONUT: Eggplant Rasavangy

After four of the most stressful months of my life (all is well that ends well; I defended my thesis successfully), I'm back to my favorite activity: food blogging! I am all excited with ideas for the new year, and am thinking of making 2007 "year of the vegetables" on One Hot Stove, inspired by Alanna of Veggie Venture, by exploring different Indian styles of cooking veggies. What do you think? What would you like to see on One Hot Stove in the new year?

Meanwhile, I missed out on so many great foodie events during my blogging break, so I was thrilled when Ashwini came up with the excellent theme of COCONUT for the Jihva for Ingredients event orginally conceived by Indira. Much of the Indian landscape (especially the Southern half) is dotted by swaying, graceful coconut palms, and the coconut is entwined with everyday Indian food. How wonderful to celebrate this ingredient!

When I think of coconut, two sublime food experiences come to my mind. One is the tender coconut water that is sold on Indian beaches everywhere. For a small price, you choose a tender green coconut. The coconut-seller uses a mean-looking machete to hack away the top of the coconut, and then you get to enjoy some of the most sublime juice on the planet, sweet and rich coconut water, a real thirst-quencher. The other memory I have is, when I was a teenager in Bombay, most of the ice cream was from companies that sold princess-pink strawberry ice cream and bright green pistachio ice cream. In short, flavors that were only caricatures of the real thing. Then a company called Naturals came along and turned our concept of ice cream on its head. It launched a tender coconut ice cream flavor that simply took my world by storm. Nothing but some cream and sugar, and a lot of tender coconut bits that melted in the mouth. Naturals still has stores all over Bombay, so try some "TC" if you get a chance!

I have already raved about two of my favorite dishes starring coconut: the sweet fudge-y NAARAL WADI and the tangy, soothing beverage SOLKADI. But coconut steals the limelight even when it is used in a supporting role. In fact, this is how I love coconut best, for the way it transforms everyday recipes into something quite special.

So, today I give you: two dals with coconut. I eat dal almost every single day, and the addition of a spicy coconut paste to dal takes it to another level. One recipe is called Moong Dal Ghassi, a dal redolent with garlic, coriander and coconut. The other is a recipe I am blogging today, for Eggplant Rasavangy, a sweet and sour creation, rich with flecks of coconut.

As days go by, I am more and more obsessed with regional cooking, and this recipe is adapted from a cookbook that (in my humble opinion) is just an excellent resource for South Indian vegetarian cooking:
The book is called Dakshin (the word means "South" in several Indian languages), written by Chandra Padmanabhan. I happened to find it while rummaging through a bookstore, looking for an Indian vegetarian cookbook as a small wedding gift for a colleague. In the end, I have bought a copy for myself as well as several copies to give as gifts. The recipes are just a little bit involved, and I usually end up taking a few short-cuts through them. For instance, this recipe called for toor dal to be cooked on the stove-top until tender and not mushy. Me, I used a pressure cooker as I just cannot pass on the saving of time, fuel and effort. So my dal is mushier than the recipe calls for. The result of the recipes has always been spot-on authentic, though. The food photographs in this book are quite stunning. It is not easy to take photographs of 20 different curries (all shades of yellow and brown) but they pull it off with style. So, here it is: a dal with eggplant and coconut.

Eggplant Rasavangy

Adapted from "Dakshin: Vegetarian Cuisine From South India" by Chandra Padmanabhan

(Serves 4-6, Prep time: 30 minutes plus time for cooking dal)

1 cup toor dal (split yellow peas)
1 tbsp tamarind paste/ lime-sized ball of dried tamarind
1 large eggplant
1 large chopped tomato/ 1/4 cup tomato puree
1 tbsp jaggery/ unrefined cane sugar
salt to taste
1 tbsp oil/ ghee
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
5-6 curry leaves
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp sambar powder
1 tsp oil
1 tbsp coriander seeds
pinch of asafoetida
2 dried red chillies (less or more to taste)
5 tbsp grated fresh or frozen or dried unsweetened coconut
2 tbsp chopped cilantro

1. Do the prep...(1) Cook the toor dal in a pressure cooker or on the stove-top and set aside. (2) If using dried tamarind, soak it in 1/2 cup hot water for 10-20 minutes, then squeeze out all the tamarind pulp and discard the solids. (3) Chop eggplant into small cubes. If using whole tomato, chop tomato into small cubes. (4) Make the masala paste by frying together the ingredients listed under "paste" and then grinding to a fine paste with a little water.
2. Heat oil in a large pot. Temper with cumin seeds, mustard seeds and curry leaves. Add the eggplant, tomato, turmeric, sambar powder, tamarind juice, jaggery and salt. Stir well, cover and cook until eggplants are tender.
3. Add the cooked dal and masala paste. At this point, check the consistency of the dal. If you find that it is too thick, add half or one cup water (or more, depending on whether you prefer dal to be thick or soupy). Stir well and simmer for 5 minutes.
4. Garnish with cilantro and serve hot with steamed rice.

Love coconut? Check out the JFI-Coconut Round-up where Ashwini neatly presents over 70 recipes for soups, snacks, curries and desserts, all featuring coconut!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Menu For Hope III

All year round, the food bloggers serve up a feast of food writing and food photography. They share old family recipes and new exciting finds. They invite you into their kitchens and to their table. Come December, food bloggers all around the world come together for their annual fund-raising event called "Menu For Hope". This year, Menu for Hope III has set out to raise money for the UN World Food Program. It is so fitting that those of us who appreciate food and are lucky enough to have never known hunger are trying, in their own small way, to help those who experience food as a daily struggle for survival.

How does it work?Many food bloggers have generously offered a cornucopia of wonderful gifts, including delicious treats, unique experiences, much-desired tools and gadgets and an armload of cookbooks. You choose your favorites, and bid on them, at 10$ for each raffle tickets. Remember, the more tickets you buy, the more your chances of nabbing the prize, and the more money we raise together to fight hunger. Now this is a win-win situation if ever I saw one!

The details:
* Go visit Chez Pim to see the wonderful prizes and note the codes of the ones you want to bid on.
* Go to First Giving to donate money and mention the prizes you are buying tickets for.
* Do it quick! The campaign runs from 11th December to 22nd December.

If you are desperately trying to come up with a holiday gift for a loved one who has everything, raffle tickets for Menu For Hope might just be the thing! Please share the love!

A brief update: One Hot Stove has been dormant for a few months. I have my final exam (the thesis defense) on the 19th of December. If all goes well, I will be moving to St. Louis the following week and will start blogging again (Whoo...hoo!). The stressful exam schedule has meant that I have not been able to put up a prize this year, but you bet I am going to bid on those amazing prizes that fellow bloggers have so generously donated! Please join us for "Menu For Hope"....the food bloggers are grateful for your support!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

SHF 23: The Surprise Inside!

No, no, I am still not done with my thesis...several more weeks to go, but I popped up from my hibernation to participate in one of my favorite foodie events, Sugar High Friday.

This month's SHF (#23, can you believe it?) is being hosted by the veggie evangelist, that champion of fresh and healthy vegetables- Alanna of Veggie Venture. Alanna has chosen the rather mysterious, open-ended theme: Surprise Inside!

So what surprise do I have in store for you?

This box contains a bona-fide dessert (sweet and rich and milky) which...SURPRISE...contains a full serving of vegetables. A nutritious vegetable at that.


Yes, this is a simple little carrot kheer. I am thrilled that I could sneak in veggies into the sugar high in honor of the Alanna, who sure loves her vegetables.

Kheer is a catch-all term for a bunch of stove-top Indian desserts. You barely need an excuse to make kheer: a birthday, a festive celebration, a family gathering is reason enough to make a big pot of this creamy dessert (it closely resembles rice pudding) to be scooped up by the bowlful.

In general, kheer contains:

  1. A milky base, generally dairy milk or coconut milk
  2. A main ingredient. The popular choices are rice, vermicelli pasta, lentils and vegetables such as carrot and bottle gourd
  3. A sprinkle of spices such as cardamom and saffron
  4. A garnish of nuts and raisin to add to the celebration!

The classic Indian carrot dessert is actually a much thicker pudding called gajar halwa but I love carrot kheer instead because it is easily cooked in 20-30 minutes. The only specialty ingredient required is cardamom; the other ingredients are pantry staples (or available at any old grocery store). The saffron, added for the delicate golden orange-yellow glow that it imparts to the kheer and for its prized subtle taste, is not required in this kheer. The copious amounts of beta-carotene in carrots give the kheer a lovely sunshine hue. Making kheer the traditional way requires a couple of hours of patient stirring to thicken the milk into the right consistency, but here I use evaporated milk to shorten the cooking time a great deal.

Carrot Kheer
(serves about 4)

4 large carrots (the freshest and juiciest you can find)
1 tbsp. butter or ghee
1/4 cup sugar (or more to taste)
1 cup milk (low-fat OK)
1 12-oz can evaporated milk (low-fat OK)
1 heaped tsp. powdered cardamom
Garnish: raisins and chopped toasted nuts

  1. Shred the carrots by hand (quite a workout) or using a food processor.
  2. Heat butter/ghee and sauté the carrots for 3-4 minutes.
  3. Stir in the milk and sugar, then cover and simmer for 10 minutes or until the carrots are tender.
  4. Stir in the evaporated milk and cardamom, then cook uncovered for 5 more minutes. Taste for sugar and stir in more if required.
  5. Chill the kheer, then serve topped with nuts and raisins.

This kheer was made in St. Louis when I was visiting over Labor Day weekend.

I will be moving there in a few months, so One Hot Stove will soon come to you from the Gateway to the West, St. Louis.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

A long blogging break!

Just a quick note to say...I am going on an extended blogging hiatus. I need to focus on my work 100% as I finish up my dissertation and get ready to defend my doctoral thesis. I know I will be lurking at my favorite blogs whenever I need a break though :) Wishing everyone the very best until I get back in a few months!

Monday, July 24, 2006

Flour Power!

It is almost time for yet another edition of the foodie event Jihva for ingredients, an original concept of Indira from Mahanandi and hosted this month by Santhi of Santhi's kitchen. Following closely on the heels of last month's theme of lentils or dals, this time Santhi has chosen the ingredient Flour!

I took a peek into my kitchen cupboards and counted the flours I have on hand; here is what I found...
It turns out, that like most Indian kitchens, I keep a variety of flours on hand, and they can be basically divided into wheat flours (the four in the middle, listed below from the finest to the coarsest) and flours from other grains or pulses (the four on the outside). Here is what I generally use them for...

The wheat flours:
1. All-purpose flour or maida: I use this for baked goods like cakes or muffins, pizza dough and for making bechamel (white) sauce. Some Indian flatbreads such as bhaturas also call for all-purpose flour. This ultra-refined flour, however, is not the healthiest option (it has most of the nutrients and fiber milled out of it), and I try and keep my use of it to a minimum.
2. Atta: This is the Indian-style whole-wheat flour. It is a finer texture compared to the whole-wheat flour found in American supermarkets. I use this for Indian breads like stuffed parathas and regular rotis or chapatis.
3. Whole-wheat flour: This is something I keep on hand for making whole-wheat pizza dough, which calls for a mixture of all-purpose and whole-wheat flour. Pizza made with whole-wheat dough looks and tastes delicious, in addition to being better for you.
4. Semolina or sooji or rava: This is the coarsest wheat flour, sold most often in American supermarkets under the brand "cream of wheat". I use it for making upma, a delicious risotto-like Indian breakfast, and also use it in smaller quantities as (a) an addition to some batters for a crispier result and (b) as a substitute for breadcrumbs for dipping patties in, prior to shallow-frying them.

Other flours:
5. Millet or ragi flour: This makes delicious and nutritious pancakes.
6. Rice flour: Also kept on hand for making quick breakfast pancakes.
7. Cornmeal: I use this for a delicious zucchini cornbread that pairs beautifully with some spicy chili.
8. Chickpea flour or besan: My favorite flour! I use it to make batter for fritters (bhajiyas and pakodas), and to make my beloved stew, pithale. This flour also makes delicious vegan "omelets" for breakfast.

For my entry today, I was faced with too many choices! After much agonised and back-and-forth-ing, I decided to go back to basics and make a traditional feast of puri with aamras and batata bhaji where puri= fried bread, aamras= mango puree and batata bhaji= a dry spicy potato dish. This combination is often served at special occasions in Marathi homes, and it was a natural choice for me because (a) I had never made puris before, and wanted to try my hand at this classic "special" bread and (b) I had a tin of canned mango puree from my parents' backyard (all-natural, with no added sweeteners) and puris are just special enough for this precious mango to be eaten with. The puri recipe was really simple, pieced together from a few recipes I found on the internet. The dough contains atta, a dab of oil and a sprinkle of salt. I did add some semolina (rava) to make the puris crisper. The result was wonderful: the puris were exactly as I hoped for (even with my imperfectly shaped circles). The meal consisted of alternate dips of the hot puffy puris into chilled mango and spicy potato...absolutely heavenly!

(serves 2-3)
2 cups atta (Indian-style whole-wheat flour)
1 heaped tbsp semolina (rava)
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp oil
oil for deep frying
Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl. Add warm water little by little to make a smooth but *firm* dough (firmer than regular roti dough). Let the dough relax for 30 minutes under a barely-damp towel in the covered bowl. Then take about a tablespoon of dough at a time, roll it into a thin circle (using some more atta to help in the rolling process), and deep fry for a few seconds on each side until the puri is puffed and golden. Drain well on some paper towels and serve hot.

Someone requested the recipe for the potato, so here it is:

Batata Bhaji
(serves 2-3)
3 large or 4 medium potatoes
1 onion, sliced
2 chillies, chopped fine
5-6 curry leaves
pinch of asafoetida
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp turmeric
salt to taste
1 tsp oil
1 wedge of lemon
2 tbsp cilantro, minced
1. Boil the potatoes. When they are cool enough to handle, peel them and chop into cubes.
2. Heat oil in a pan. Temper with cumin and mustard seeds.
3. Add the onion, chillies, asafoetida and curry leaves and saute till onions are lightly browned.
4. Add the salt and turmeric powder and stir to mix.
5. Add the potato cubes and stir well. Cover and cook for 5 minutes.
6. Turn off the heat. Sprinkle with lemon juice and cilantro. Serve with puris.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Recipe Watch 3, from my *tiny* kitchen...

Far more than cookbooks, I use my fellow bloggers as inspiration to try some new recipes and find new favorites. Every so often, a recipe from a food blog will make it to our hit-list, and go into routine circulation on our dinner menu. Here are some of my recent "finds":

1. My introduction to chard: I love eating my greens. Always have. Eating in the cafeteria in my hostel in college, I was the one person who would enthusiastically eat up the weekly serving of mystery-greens-in-a-mush (Am I right, M?). However, cooking with greens is another story: anything other than the familiar spinach intimidates me. So was it with chard. Those huge stalks and oversize leaves...what do you make with it? I jumped for joy when Barbara of Tigers and Strawberries posted her recipe for vegetarian enchiladas. The filling called for chard, corn and black beans. I followed Barbara's recipe for the filling, but used store-bought corn tortillas and my favorite tried-and-tested salsa verde recipe for the sauce. The result was wonderful: the chard tasted fresh and "green" without being bitter or overwhelming. Overall, the enchiladas were so tasty and healthy! The amounts suggested in the recipe made two whole dinners for V and me. I am dying to try chard in more dishes, so let me know if you have a suggestion.

2. One of every two nights, dinner at my home is some-form-of-rice with some-form-of-beans, and I am constantly looking for fresh ideas for cooking dal or beans. One recipe from Shammi's Food-In the Main caught my eye: it used one of my favorite beans- black-eyed peas. Shammi's black-eyes peas in yogurt sauce was easy to make, looked pretty and tasted sublime. Like all of Shammi's recipes that I have tried so far!

3. The next two dal dishes come from Sailu's excellent round-up of the foodie event "Jihva for Ingredients 3". Dozens of bloggers churned out some inspiring (and inspired) dishes using lentils, and I have my eye on trying on most of them. The first recipe I tried was from the host, Sailu, herself. I am always looking for good recipes for classic dishes, and dal makhani (translated as buttery lentils) is probably the the best example of a stereotyped classic Indian entree. Sailu's recipe for dal makhani was an instant hit: with the combination of lentils and kidney beans, a rich creamy sauce of tomatoes, onion, subtle spices, anointed with butter and cream; this dish is enough to make any dinner special!

4. This is the other hit from the dal round-up: I seem to be on a chana dal binge, and the dalcha recipe from Nabeela of Trial and Error looked intriguing and tempting. Since summer squash is in season right now, I used some beautiful yellow squash in place of the gourd in the dalcha recipe. I served the dalcha with rice that had caramelized onions stirred into it. The result was terrific!

5. To end this round-up, a simple and tasty dish from Gini-Ann of Salt and Pepper: a radish pachadi or yogurt relish that is perfect for summer. Gini, who has a green thumb indeed, used beautiful radishes from her own garden, while I had to resign myself to radishes grown by someone else (in new jersey, though, so it was close to home). This whole summer, I have been buying radishes almost every week: to be used in a simple mixed salad, or to be added to sambar, an idea I first got from Indira of Mahanandi. Gini's recipe is now another favorite: radishes (with some radish greens) sauteed lightly to bring out their sweetness, then dressed with a tempered yogurt sauce. Absolutely divine!

Finally, some of you were interested in taking a look at my *tiny* kitchen, where all the food on One Hot Stove gets made. Here it is:
The kitchen has been carved out of the niche that is the coat closet in normal (which is to say, non-NYC) apartments. So, to the right of this photo is the front door, and to the left is the living room. The kitchen contains three electric burners (two of which work), a small oven (good thing I never have to roast turkeys), and the only counter space is that between the knife rack and the dish drainer. Whenever I try to use a rolling pin in this counter space, I have to hold it at the diagonal across the space, otherwise I either hit the wall or knock the dish tray on the floor! Across from this niche is a wall which hold a little spice rack, and that is the sum total of my kitchen (fridge, toaster oven and microwave are scattered in the living room).
I happen to love this kitchen, though, and I have been cooking meals for 20 people here for years. If there is anyone out there who complains that they don't cook because their kitchen is too small, y'all know it is just an excuse :) !!
In a few months, I will be moving to another city and a bigger kitchen where I can hold my rolling pin any damn way I please, and I won't lie to you: I'm excited about that :)

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Books and Food: Freedom Song by Amit Chaudhuri

This article is part of a special series called "Books and Food". I have loved books long before I ever got interested in the culinary arts. Short stories, novels, biographies and travelogues, I love them all. Human life is inextricably linked to food, and books often use descriptions of feasts and famines, dinner rituals and food memories to bring a point across to the reader. In this series, I talk about my favorite books and the food passages therein, and make a dish or a meal inspired by the book

Today's book: A Strange and Sublime Address, a novella by Amit Chaudhuri, part of the book Freedom Song

The food: A Bengali meal of Chholar Dal and Aloo Posto, served over steamed rice

Amit Chaudhuri's novella A Strange and Sublime Address is part of a collection of three novellas, Freedom Song. It is a story with a plot that is remarkable by its non-existence! It is not a story so much as it is a snapshot, a description of a certain time and place, capturing the minutae of existence of a certain family. Sandeep visits his mother's family in Calcutta for the summer, and Chaudhuri captures this simple summer vacation- the day-today activities of Sandeep and his two boy cousins, the goings-about of the typical Bengali household- with his exquisitely descriptive language. Here is a book that reads like a poem.

"...Later, they went down to have lunch in the dining-room; they dangled their feet ferociously from chairs round a large, shabby table with pots thronging in the centre.
Pieces of boal fish, cooked in turmeric, red chilli paste, onions and garlic, lay in a red, fiery sauce in a red pan; rice, packed into an even white cake, had a spade-like spoon embedded in it; slices of fried aubergine were arranged on a white dish; dal was served from another pan with a dropping ladle; long, complex filaments of banana-flower, exotic, botanical, lay in yet another pan in a dark sauce; each plate had a heap of salt on one side, a green chilli, and a slice of sweet-smelling lemon. The grown-ups snapped the chillies (each made a sounds terse as a satirical retort), and scattered the tiny, deadly seeds in their food. If any of the boys were ever brave or foolish enough to bite a chilli, their eyes filled tragically with tears, and they longed to drown in a cool, clear lake. Though Chhotomama was far from affluent, they ate well, especially on Sundays, caressing the rice and sauces on their plates with attentive, sensuous fingers. fingers which performed a practised and graceful ballet on the plate till it was quite empty"

I am a newcomer to Bengali cuisine. Bengali food is stereotyped by the heavy consumption of rice and fish, and is famous for its delicious milk-based sweets. Vegetarian Bengali food is traditionally "satvik", meaning "pure" and devoid of onions and garlic. Unlike the vegetarian food of the rest of India, Bengali veggie food is very mild as far as spices go. To make a simple home-style Bengali-inspired meal, I decided to make two classics: a simple chana dal called chholaar dal, a potato-and-poppy seed preparation called aloo posto and some piping hot steamed rice to round out the meal.

The chholar dal recipe is kindly provided by my friend Sujayita. She served this at a dinner to me once, and I was delighted by this mild, sweetish, buttery tasting dal. I personally tend to not use chana dal very much, and when I tasted this dal, I was convinced that I should use it more.

Chholaar Dal
(serves 4)
1 cup chana dal (split gram lentils)
1 heaped tbsp grated fresh ginger
1 tbsp oil
1 tbsp ghee
2 bay leaves
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1 inch piece of cinnamon
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 heaped tsp sugar (or to taste)
salt to taste
Bits of coconut, fried (optional)
1. Soak the chana dal for 8-10 hours. Then cook on stove-top or in pressure cooker until it is tender but not mushy.
2. Stir the ginger into the cooked dal and set aside.
3. Heat the oil and ghee, then add all the tempering ingredients. Saute for a couple of minutes.
4. Add the turmeric and saute for a few seconds, then add cooked dal and simmer for 5 minutes.
5. Season with salt and sugar. You can add more water if the dal appears too thick. Garnish with coconut, if using.

The aloo posto recipe originates with my aunt J who lives in Toronto. Although she is Konkani, she was raised in Calcutta and is married to a Bengali; traditional Bengali food often makes its way to her table. When I visited her three years ago, she delighted me by serving aloo posto with typical Konkani-style dal, a true marriage of two culinary traditions! Once I returned home, I tried making it and it came out great. However, in a moment of culinary bravado, I neglected to write the recipe down. This is the best I can remember of it, so I'm not making any claims to authenticity with this recipe!

Aloo Posto
(serves 4)
2 large or 3 medium potatoes
salt to taste
1/2 tsp turmeric
2 tbsp oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 bayleaf
1/2 cup poppy seeds
2 green or red chillies
1. Soak the poppy seeds for 30 minutes. Grind them with the chillies, using very little water, to make a thick paste.
2. Peel the potatoes and slice them into thick stubby finger shapes. Rub them with salt and turmeric and set aside.
3. Heat the oil, then saute the cumin seeds and bayleaf for a minute.
4. Add the potatoes and saute for a few minutes.
5. Stir in the poppy seed paste and 1/2 cup water.
6. Cover and cook till potatoes are tender and well-coated with the paste (adding a little more water if the potatoes start sticking to the pan).

See you soon with a new edition of "Recipe Watch", where I describe some recipes from my fellow bloggers that I have tried and loved. Have a great week ahead!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Test-Driving my new Le Creuset

Early this year, I made a resolution to stock my kitchen with better cookware. One of the items high on my list was a heavy-duty cast-iron casserole. A few weeks ago, my friend Laureen stopped by, and came bearing a wedding gift in a big old heavy box. She must be a mind-reader, because that box contained my object of desire: a le creuset casserole, in the cutest yellow-tomato shape (complete with a realistic stem-like lid). creuset1

For someone who likes to cook and has been doing it for a while, I feel like I have a very poor understanding of cookware. Much of it stems from the fact that (a) I cook in a *tiny* kitchen with limited space for pots and pans, and (b) when I stocked my kitchen 5 years ago, I was under a tight budget and ended up getting one run-of-the-mill cookware set and then just using that for years. So I am starting to educate myself a little bit on cookware, and it turns out that cast-iron cookware is made by pouring molten iron into a mold (a centuries-old method of making cooking pots). The Le creuset variety is then coated with a layer of enamel, which means it does not require "seasoning" like regular cast iron pots do. The wonderful thing about cast iron pots is that they are nothing if not sturdy, so I totally expect to take good care of my little tomato and have it last a lifetime.

I searched around for a recipe to try in this pot, and came across one in a recent issue of Vegetarian Times magazine. It sounded like a delicious recipe (vegan to boot) and uses carrots (which I tend to under-use) and rubbed sage (a new addition to my spice rack). This recipe was part of an article on carrot recipes; I am dying to try out a carrot cake which was also published in the same article.

Tofu-Carrot Cacciatore

(adapted from "Vegetarian Times" magazine, serves 4-5)
1 bunch fresh carrots, peeled and cut into slices on a bias
1 green pepper, cut into large dice
1 onion, cut into large dice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 8-oz package Italian-style baked tofu, cubed
1 28-oz can tomatoes (crushed or whole peeled)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 bayleaf
1 tbsp rubbed sage
salt and pepper to taste
1 and half cups dried pasta (your favorite shape)
1. Heat the olive oil. Saute onions and garlic till transluscent and aromatic.
2. Add the carrots, peppers and bayleaf and saute for 3-4 minutes.
3. Add the tomatoes, sage, tofu, salt and pepper and simmer for 30-40 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, cook the pasta as per package directions. Serve the cacciatore over the hot pasta.

I was very impressed with the way this stew turned out. The le creuset casserole browns veggies just beautifully. It held heat for a really long time and was a snap to clean. Thanks, Laureen, I will be thinking of you every single time I use this beautiful pot!

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Too Darned Hot: Mushroom Chettinad

When Barbara of Tigers and Strawberries announced that the theme this time around for her monthly "Spice is Right" event is It's too darned hot, with a focus on (what else but) chillies, I smiled to myself. Indian cuisine embraces its chillies, with nary a chilli-free savoury dish in sight.

Even so, some sub-cultures in India are famous for kicking up the heat to a whole 'nother level. For instance, Andhra cuisine uses chillies exuberantly (I once *wept* through a Andhra thali dinner at Bheema in Bangalore, and can't wait to go back for more), Kolhapuri cuisine is redolent with chillies and garlic (restaurants all over India serve what they call Kolhapuri-style dishes, the only common thread among these is lashings of chillies and garlic) and a relatively unknown cuisine known as Chettinad (from the Chettinad region of Tamil Nadu) that achieves its flavor from an intense combination of chillies and peppercorns.

My first taste of Chettinad food was in a rather unlikely location: a cafe adjoining a theatre in Bombay. At the time, I was living with my aunt Y (a regular reader of this blog) in Juhu, a swanky neighborhood in Bombay, and she gets all the credit for making me a culture vulture (to the modest extent that I am one, anyway). Y and I trooped over town to the theatre (both Marathi and English), museums, art galleries and fancy restaurants. We lived an envious life: we would shop till we dropped, snacking all the while, then come home and dine on pepsi and potato chips (this was a decade she has a kid to raise and I have a thesis to complete and that casually extravagant lifestyle seems nothing short of surreal). One of our favorite outings was a trip to the Prithvi Theatre to see the latest production, followed by a visit to the cafe for some snacks and the mandatory Irish coffee.

When I first tasted mushroom Chettinad at the Prithvi Cafe, it was a flavor explosion in my mouth. A burst of chillies and black pepper, mingling with the aroma of curry leaves and mustard seeds...I could not believe it! The taste was imprinted in my brain and has stayed with me for years. Traditional Chettinad cuisine, however, is very meat-oriented, and I never did get a chance to try my hand at making this dish. Until last week. I was reading The Turmeric Trail, a memoir-style cookbook by Raghavan Iyer (about the book: I liked the recipes but could not stand the prose) and came across a recipe for shrimp Chettinad. Just as I remembered, it called for a combination of peppercorns and chillies (a great deal of each), with a flavorful tempering of curry leaves and mustard seeds, counterbalanced with the tang of tamarind. I adapted the recipe to wild mushrooms bought fresh from the farmer's market, and the result was addictive, finger-licking good; but *very* hot, so you must sign a waiver if you want to try this recipe!

Mushroom Chettinad
(adapted from The Turmeric Trail by Raghavan Iyer; serves 2-3)
3 cups mixed wild mushrooms (I used cremini, shitake, oyster), cleaned and chopped coarsely
1 tsp tamarind paste
salt to taste
cilantro, minced, for garnish
For tempering
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
5-6 fresh curry leaves
For spice mixture
1 tbsp split yellow peas (chana dal)
5-6 black peppercorns
2 dried red chillies

1. Roast all the ingredients for the spice mixture. Cool and grind in a spice/coffee grinder to a fine powder. Set aside.
2. Heat oil in a skillet. Add the mustard seeds and curry leaves and stir around for a few seconds till the seeds pop.
3. Saute the mushrooms in the tempered oil. Season with salt.
4. When the mushrooms start sweating, add the spice mixture and saute for a couple of minutes on low-medium heat.
5. Add the tamarind paste (and a few tablespoons of water if the mixture starts sticking to the pan). Stir for a minute.
6. Garnish with cilantro. Serve hot with rotis or rice.