Saturday, October 27, 2007

Weekend Stuff

I have to warn you right now: go grab some garlic and get ready to meet...
dogula1

Count Dogula has overcome his fear of sunlight, and he has arrived in St. Louis from Transylvania to continue his blood-sucking ways:
dogula5

He keeps an eye out for his next victim...
dogula2

...and then he strikes!
dogula3

After his vampire feast, he needs to sit and relax in the shade for a while :D
dogula4


So you see, we have had a fun afternoon! The pet costume party was a hilarious circus and all the pups seemed to enjoy themselves. For all those people in the "poor-Dale-tortured-with-costumes" camp, let me tell you that he did not mind it one bit :D

Many *many* thanks for the lovely costume ideas that I got from you all: Mocha suggested a turban and pearl necklace...Maharaja style, Namita suggested a cowboy look, Bulbul suggested "SuperDale" and Cathy and Lindy also suggested the superhero look, Moon Rani suggested "WatchDog" (superhero with a twist!), Reva suggested the "little devil" look, Dhana suggested "Underdog". I was torn between all these wonderful ideas and went with "Dogula" mostly because I found the right fabric for it, and thought the name was cute (I did not make up the name "dogula", by the way. I came across it on some website selling ready-made pet costumes). But Dale is set for the next few halloweens with these ideas :)

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These days, I have been cooking quick meals based on some of our favorite dishes, rather than trying anything new. However, here are some vegetable dishes that I tried in the last couple of weeks, inspired by fellow bloggers. With such delicious recipes, you can't help but gobble your vegetables.

1. Spicy Sweet Potato Fries from Kalyn
RatalaFries

I have said this before, and I will say it again: it is a pity that we don't eat more sweet potatoes. This lovely vegetable seems to be reserved for rare occasions (Thanksgiving in the US, fasting days in Maharashtra) but is nutritious and delicious enough to be consumed once a week, at least. I jumped for joy when I saw this recipe on Kalyn's blog. The spice mixture in that recipe sounds delicious, but I have been making these with simple combinations like cumin-black pepper, chilli powder-cumin-coriander with superb results! The sugars in the sweet potato brown beautifully as it roasts, lending a delightful caramel flavor to the fries. I have been making this recipe once or twice a week since I laid eyes on it.

2. No-deep-fry Gobi Manchurian from Zlamushka
GobiNoodle

Now that I own a wok, I have been trying to use it more. This recipe caught my eye because it makes my favorite Indian-Chinese dish, gobi manchurian, without the pain of deep-frying those cauliflower florets. Here is the way I made it: Heated some peanut oil in the wok, stir-fried cauliflower florets at high heat until they seared well and were tender. In a separate pan, made a sauce using onion, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, vinegar, red chilli sauce, sugar and some Sichuan chilli-bean paste. I thickened the sauce with some cornstarch paste. Then I added the florets to the sauce, along with some sliced green onions. I was too lazy to make fried rice on the side, so I cooked some whole-wheat noodles and stirred them into the sauce to make a one-dish meal. Yes, I know the food police can arrest you for using Italian-style pasta in place of Chinese noodles (the two are very different). Yes, I know that this concoction of noodles and faux gobi manchurian must seem very strange and "wrong". But we love the heartiness of the whole wheat noodles, and this dish just hit the spot! And that is all I really care about :)

3. Masale Bhaat from Ashwini
MasaleBh

Moving from unholy concoctions to a very traditional and time-honored dish! Masale bhaat (literally, spiced rice) is a must at Maharashtrian wedding and feasts. Ashwini's recipe yields a masale bhaat that is astonishingly authentic- the aroma of the cooking rice itself will surely result in a skipped heartbeat among those who know and love this dish (and possibly have not eaten it for ages and ages). The rice requires only a dry spice mix (easy to make in a spice grinder) and comes together so quickly and easily that it is almost belongs on the weeknight menu. I never have access to the tondli (ivy gourd) that is traditionally used in this dish, so I use mixed vegetables instead, with great results. Here, I served it with some stir-fried mustard greens and some solkadi (the latter is a traditional accompaniment to masale bhaat). The solkadi turned out so incredibly tasty, and shocking-pink(!), because of the lovely newly-dried "kokum" sent by my aunt from the Konkan coast, which were so much better than the ones I usually buy from the store. Home-made trumping store-bought...what else is new, right?

4. Udipi Sambar from Padma.
UdiSam

I think by now everyone has tried this incredible sambar that Padma blogged about, and I am happy to jump on to the bandwagon. The usual sambar that I make (and love) is very different from the one served in those Udipi restaurants that I so miss. The sambar served with those endless idli and dosa platters has a hint of sweetness and a hint of coconut. I have been looking for a good recipe replicating that taste, and have found it! This sambar was so delicious, with its freshly-ground masala and a sweet-spicy taste. We enjoyed it with crispy dosas, then with plain steamed rice, and it was tasty every which way.

Many thanks to all the bloggers for helping me bring new tastes to our tables and keep meals interesting, even when life gets a bit busy! Have a great week, everyone!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Hummus and Kibbeh

A few people have recently asked me what I think of the vegetarian dining-out options in St. Louis. I am just starting to find out, actually. We moved here from NYC with zero expectations, and if every restaurant in town had been selling barbecue, I would not have blinked en eyelid. So it has been a pleasant surprise to find that almost every weekend, we are able to find a new place to try. I have no idea if any St. Louis residents actually read this blog, but more for my own record than anything else, I have started a small restaurant list here (there is a link in the right side-bar as well). Anyway, last weekend, we particularly enjoyed a dinner at a very cute local restaurant called "Stellina Pasta Cafe". It had been one of those exhausting weeks where the days went by in a blur, and with the rush between work and school and household chores and dog-rearing, V and I barely got a chance to have a normal conversation. A relaxed dinner with good food really cheered us up that Saturday evening! Grilled pita served with hummus and olives is probably the most common appetizer on restaurant menus in this country today, but this cafe did an exceptional job with it. I've made hummus once or twice before at home, it never really turned out well, and as we drove home, I reminded myself to give it another shot.

I happened to be thumbing through Suvir Saran's new book American Masala the next day (many thanks to the publishers for sending me a review copy), and lo and behold, came upon a recipe for toasted garlic hummus. I took it as a sign, and ended up making the hummus last night for dinner.
AmericanMasala This is a very interesting cookbook- rather than focusing on one region, one course or one genre, it embraces the multifaceted nature of us home cooks. Like curious magpies hoarding shiny objects, cooking enthusiasts seem to collect recipes as they go along in their culinary lives. No matter what food we grew up eating and what cuisine we normally cook, our repertoire evolves into a unique collection that tells the story of our life- whom we met, where we have travelled, what tastes we lean towards. One recipe may be the hallmark of a local festival that we have started to celebrate; another may be learnt years ago from Grandma. Yet another may be from some out-of-print cookbook that we found at a garage sale. Well, this cookbook is essentially like taking a peek into Saran's personal recipe file- except that, instead of yellowing lined notepaper with ball-point scribblings (I only imagine his notebook looks like this because mine does!), it is a lush cookbook with vibrant photographs in jewel tones. This tendency of developing a wildly assorted recipe collection is especially true of those of us who live in foreign lands, and especially true of the US where so many cultures live and eat together. A single chapter in Saran's cookbook has dishes ranging from enchiladas to lasagna, from paella to biryani. Isn't this just the crazy way many of us eat today? Many of the dishes reminded me of the same things that so many bloggers tend to do: take a dish, apply a unique twist and make it your own. In this cookbook, for instance, I came across unusual flavor pairings such as cardamom-roasted cauliflower and chocolate-hazelnut torte with ginger, cloves and cayenne. The book has both vegetarian and meat-seafood dishes, everything from breakfast to desserts.

Coming back to the hummus: it is commonly made with canned chickpeas. In my hands, that does not work so well for some reason and I feel like the resulting hummus tastes "pasty" and "raw". This time, I soaked the chickpeas and pressure-cooked them, with much better results. I used way more (1 whole head) roasted garlic than what Saran suggested (2 cloves). Roasted garlic has a mellow flavor and I like using it generously. Also, he suggests using a broiler to toast the garlic- and I just used my toaster oven. The combination of toasted cumin and roasted garlic is so delicious here.

Roasted Garlic Hummus

garHummus
(adapted from Suvir Saran's American Masala)
1. Roast 1 head of garlic until the cloves are soft (see methods here and here). Peel the skin off.
2. In a food processor bowl fitted with the metal blade, place 2 C chickpeas (preferably home-cooked, but canned should work too), 2 heaped T tahini (sesame seed paste), 2 T extra-virgin olive oil, juice of 1 lemon, peeled roasted garlic, 1 t toasted cumin seeds, red chilli flakes to taste, and salt and pepper to taste.
3. Process, adding a little water if required, to a smooth paste. Taste and add more salt or lemon juice if required. Serve with olives (I bought some delicious marinated olives from the olive bar at Whole Foods) and wedges of toasted pitas.

I wanted a hearty main course to go with this hummus platter, and decided to try a recipe that had been long book-marked: Potato Kibbeh from Vegan Feast Kitchen. The post gives a lot of interesting information about kibbeh- delicious morsels of potato and bulgur wheat. The recipe is easy easy- olive oil and sliced onions layered in a baking pan, a mashed potato-soaked bulgur (uncooked)-cinnamon-herb mixture layered on top, drizzled with more olive oil and baked until golden. Cinnamom gives a unique aroma to this dish, for sure.
potKibbeh

I halved the recipe but loved it so much that I will definitely be making it again, especially when I have hungry hordes to feed! I used coarse bulgur because that was what I had on hand- but will look for a fine one next time I make this. I was also a big bore, as usual, and reduced the oil in the recipe, but it was delicious anyway. To serve with the baked kibbeh squares, I made an impromptu tzatziki-inspired sauce with yogurt, minced garlic, minced cucumber, cilantro and salt, and the combination was delicious.

P. S. You know that fall/winter is here when my food photos take a nosedive :D When supper-time rolls along, it is already dark outside and I have to take pictures in artificial light. Hence that awful yellow glow on the pictures. I need to learn how to take pictures in artificial light. Have a great week, everyone!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Creamy Coconut-Tofu Rice

This recipe was born on a fridge-cleaning Friday night. We enjoyed it so much that I made it again a few times. One time, a friend joined us for dinner and asked for the recipe. I got the feeling that this dish had earned its place on the blog, so here it is. It just could not be simpler: vegetables and rice are cooked in a mixture of coconut milk and water. Cubes of soft tofu are added to the simmering rice. The resulting creamy rice, mildly spiced and dotted with melt-in-the-mouth tofu, is much more than the sum of its parts.

Coconut-Tofu Rice

cocorice

Ingredients:
1 C rice (I used sona masuri)
2 C chopped mixed vegetables (eg. spinach, beans, peas, carrots)
1 t oil
1 small onion, sliced
8-10 curry leaves
1 t cumin seeds
1/2 t turmeric
1/2 t red chilli powder (or to taste)
1 t sambar masala (or your favorite spice blend...I used a gava kadcha (rustic) masala gifted by an aunt)
Salt to taste
3/4 C thick coconut milk
2.5 C hot water
1 heaped cup soft tofu cubes (about 1/2 of a standard block)
Garnish:
Wedges of lemon
3-4 spring onion stalks (green parts, sliced) or cilantro, minced
Method:
1. Heat the oil, temper with curry leaves and cumin seeds, and saute the onion until the edges start browning.
2. Stir in the salt, turmeric, chilli powder, and your masala of choice, then saute the vegetables for a couple of minutes.
3. Stir in the rice, coconut milk and water, and bring to a boil.
4. Gently arrange the tofu cubes in the rice mixture, and then cover the pan and simmer until the rice is tender and most of the liquid is absorbed.
5. Serve hot, garnished with fresh herbs and lemon wedges. This dish tastes best when it is freshly made. The picture you see here is of the leftovers, taken the next day, and by this time, most of the creaminess has been absorbed into the rice. Still tasty, though!

This rice is delicious when paired with a crunchy kachumbar, a simple salad of any combination of tomato-onion-cucumber-carrot-cabbage-radish dressed with a little salt, pepper and lemon juice. I have also served it with a medley of roasted vegetables with tasty results.

An interesting variation would be to use Thai curry paste instead of the Indian spices, to make a Thai-inspired rice. Or use generous amounts of either ginger or garlic (in the saute step) to make rice with a more distinctive flavor.

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Soup and Spirals

The weather here in St. Louis is starting to change...fall is finally inching its way here. A few nights ago, a sudden chill inspired me to root around for something warm and hearty for supper. The fridge was rather empty, but I had half a batch of pizza dough in the freezer. Together with pantry supplies like brown lentils and canned tomato, this light meal was thrown together in 30-40 minutes. The aroma of simmering soup and baking bread in the kitchen is so therapeutic at the end of a long day.

The inspiration for the pizza dough spirals comes from a two-sentence post for savory bread rolls on the blog The Casual Baker. The method is analogous to that of the sinfully delicious cinnamon rolls, except that these are savory little bites with a tasty mixture of garlic, olives and red pepper flakes tucked inside. You could use just about any "filling" here- like pesto or chopped sun dried tomatoes, or minced herbs, or just crushed peppercorns. If you are a fan of cheese, that would make a nice filling too.

Pizza Dough Spirals

pizzrolls

1. Preheat the oven to 425F.
1. Make the filling by combining 3-4 cloves minced garlic, 1/3 cup chopped olives (I used black Kalamata olives) and 1 t red pepper flakes (or to taste).
2. On a floured surface, roll out/ pat out the (thawed) pizza dough into a fairly thin rectangle. I used a half-batch of this dough to yield about 10 spirals.
3. Brush the dough lightly with olive oil, sprinkle the filling on it and roll up into one long roll.
4. With a sharp knife, cut the roll into slices. Place the slices cut-side down on an oiled baking sheet. Brush with more olive oil (optional) and bake for 10-15 minutes or until golden.
5. Serve piping hot with some soup or just as a snack. It is a real treat to pull apart these crispy spirals and tuck into the fresh-baked bread.

The soup I made was an extremely simple Tomato Lentil Soup, essentially a tadka-less dal. Because I was serving the soup with these flavorful spirals, I did not load it up with other flavors. Otherwise, I would have added some garlic and red pepper flakes to the soup. There is barely a recipe here...but in case anyone is interested, here is the general method. It makes 3-4 servings.
1. Heat 1 t olive oil in a saucepan and saute 1 sliced onion until lightly browned.
2. Add 0.5 C washed brown lentils (whole masoor), 1.5 C tomato puree (fresh or canned), 2 C water, salt and pepper and let the whole thing simmer until the lentils are meltingly tender. Add more water if the soup feels too thick. Turn off the heat and taste the soup. Add some lemon juice or a sprinkle of sugar to balance out the flavors if necessary.
A garnish of fresh herbs would be delicious, but I had none on hand.

These fresh-baked spirals are my humble contribution to World Bread Day '07. Many thanks to Zorra for hosting this event. 2007 has been the year when I have really started to make breads- both our Indian flatbreads and other breads- on a regular basis, and it is such a rewarding experience each time! I look forward to plenty of bread-making inspiration in the round-up.

Monday, October 15, 2007

One in a Million

This is a non-food post

Actually, make that 1 in 6 billion. That is what each of us is, a teeny drop in an ocean of humanity. If, like me, you are a card-carrying pessimist, then that number will make you feel terribly small and insignificant, and helpless about doing anything for this wounded world we live in. But when I get melancholy about this, a little voice in my head says, "ek chidiya, anek chidiya"...the words of a Hindi children's animation that I simply loved as a kid (nostalgic folks can see it here on YouTube). To be fair, that adorable little animation talks about national unity, but the spirit is the same: if enough people put their mind to something, big changes can happen.

Blog Action Day


October 15th is Blog Action Day, when thousands of bloggers come together and post their thoughts on the subject of our environment. The environment can mean a lot of things- the air we breathe, our food and drink, the flora and fauna we share our world with. A healthy environment also means justice, fairness and an equitable sharing of resources. It means that people should stop exploiting each other and share a little. Or be made to.

I have realized that in our complicated world, an ordinary person like me has at least two trump cards in her hand: knowledge and money. Knowledge because I have the privilege of knowing how to read and write, and access to media of all kinds, including the behemoth internet. Money because every person (wealthy or not) who earns and lives in this material world is making a choice every time they spend a rupee, a dollar, whatever unit of currency. Instead of feeling helpless, I can try and learn about the world and its workings, and then use my power as a consumer to make choices about how I spend my money (or not) and how I live my life.

In the recent past, I have learnt...
...about the unfair trade practices that keep farmers in poor countries under economic slavery. I have started to vote for fairness by buying fair trade products whenever I can find them (coffee and cocoa are two that are starting to becoming widely available in the US).
...about the disgusting employment practices of companies like Walmart, who build their empires on the lives on those minimum-wage workers who toil for them. They won't get a cent from me if I can help it. I might find a dirt-cheap toaster at Walmart but someone else is paying the price for it.
...about supporting companies who manage to do a good job. Once companies realize that people want fair employee and trade practices, eco-friendly ingredients and packaging, and will buy products and services only when these conditions are met, then change will come fast.
...about the fact that "biodegradable" isn't! Products touted as "biodegradable" are tested under optimum conditions of degradation. Our trash ends up in a landfill where even a banana peel isn't likely to decompose! "Reduce" is the way to go, avoiding paper plates and the like altogether.
...about becoming less of a consumer altogether, and finding that life is much simpler and happier that way. My mother does a good imitation of me wringing my hands and saying, "I *hate* STUFF. Who needs all this stuff? Stop buying me more stuff, Aai, and stop buying all this stuff yourself". It amuses her no end when I start my hate-stuff rant, but hating "stuff" (random things cluttering up my home) makes me a happier person :D
...about the cruel nature of breeding pure-bred dogs to satisfy pet fanciers. If you want a pet, don't BUY it, adopt it from the streets or from the local animal shelter. You will have a pet who is one-of-a-kind look and personality, unlike the inbred near-clones with kennel club certificates. I'm proud to say that all my friends have rescued pets, and it is the cutest menagerie you ever saw.

I hope to keep reading and learning and increasing my awareness of how I could change my ways to more fair and eco-friendly ones. Meanwhile, action starts at home, and one of the top places in the home where potential waste can be minimized is the kitchen. Madhuli tagged me for the What's in your Fridge? meme. My experience is that an overfilled, messy fridge is the best way to waste large amounts of food, because (a) you never find anything you need and end up ordering take-out (b) you forget what you already have and buy more of everything (c) you never get to the food, and it sits there and is thrown out after a few weeks. For the last year or two, my fridge has strict "zones" and zero waste.
frig

From the top...
Top shelf: Beverages on the sides (milk/ fruit juice on the left, coffee and beer on the right), cooked (ready-to-eat) food in the middle where I can see it and use it for the nest meal or two, or for lunch-boxes.
Middle shelf: Eggs, cheese, tofu on the left, right side is reserved for "carbs"- bread, tortillas, today there is some dosa batter as well.
Below that is a small compartment for Dale's canned food, then the shelf below has fruits, dry fruits and occasional sweet treats. We are not big fruit eaters, but when I cut up the fruit and save it in boxes, making it convenient to eat, it disappears fast.
Bottom-most shelf is for codiments/preserves that don't fit in the door, and for containers with some coconut milk/ canned tomatoes, half-used veggies...any ingredient that is left over from a recipe and needs to be used up in 2-3 days. The lowest crisper trays (not in the picture) are stuffed with vegetables, which get used all through the week and then in some fridge-cleaning recipe on Thursday or Friday night.
All the food we possibly eat can fit into one or the other zones, and then I know exactly where everything is, which means it is not left to perish in loneliness, plus I don't keep the fridge door open hunting down stuff. Rigid as this system sounds, it actually works :D What are your fridge-organization tips? Write this meme and tell us!

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On the subject of sharing what we have to make the world a better place, I wanted to spread the word about a very worthy cause. The Feed A Hungry Child campaign has taken on the mission of feeding hungry children, one at a time. This is the vision of a fellow blogger VKN of My Dhaba. Please chip in by clicking below and donate whatever amount you wish. Share a meal with a child...you will be rewarded with smiles!

Update: As if smiles were not enough, there are now some very cool prizes to sweeten the deal! Visit Mahanandi to buy one raffle ticket for every 25$ donation. The prizes in the raffle include cookbooks, photography books, spice extracts, children's saris and restaurant dinners!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Weekend Stuff

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

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.
cauliroast

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.
granola2

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.
besanlad

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!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Peanut Butter Banana Bread

The Heart of the Matter is a food blog event with a difference- like many other events, you make a dish every month based on a theme, BUT with one important criterion: the food has to be heart-friendly and healthful! It is a wonderful challenge to think of the food we eat and come up with something that is both delicious and better for the body. The round-ups are collected in the HotM blog so that we can all have a handy collection of recipes to try out. The theme this month, hosted by Joanna is something that is rarely heart-friendly: Baking.

I wonder if anyone ever goes out and buys bananas with the specific intention of making banana bread. Unlike other sweet treats, banana bread always seems to be an after-thought. An emergency culinary operation to save over-ripe bananas from the trash-can, and to save our conscience from the distress of having wasted good food. Well, the banana bread that follows was also a rescue mission to salvage two rapidly ripening bananas. I found a recipe on the Vegetarian Times website that looked a little different from the usual banana bread recipes. After trying it, I realized that it could fit into the heart-healthy theme of the event above and decided to send it in.

Why is this recipe more heart-healthy than most baked treats?
1. It uses fiber-rich whole-wheat flour.
2. The source of fat is mainly peanut butter, which is a rich source of protein, micronutrients and "good" fats.

I made a couple more changes in the original recipe: (a) reduced the sugar and added some molasses (see note below) instead, (b) substituted milk for half of the oil. One might think of making this recipe even less fatty by substituting 2-3 egg whites for the one whole egg, and applesauce for the oil. The chocolate chips are optional, but oh so delicious. Perhaps the most heart-friendly device with respect to sweet treat is sharing them, just like our parents always instructed us to: cutting the loaf into small portion slices and sharing them with lots of friends ensures that you enjoy it without over-indulging. Next time, I might bake this in a 8 x 8 baking pan instead of a loaf pan to be able to cut smaller portions easily.

A digression: Molasses is a by-product of sugar production.
It has a deep color and a robust taste to match (the way jaggery has a distinct taste; unlike refined sugar which is just baldly sweet). The taste of molasses might be an acquired one; I grew up in a region that is teeming with sugarcane fields and sugar factories, and did acquire the taste early in life (molasses is called kakvi in Marathi). It is a great choice for a sweetener because it has lots of micronutrients- these factories work hard to remove all possible nutrients from sugar while refining it and many of them end up in the byproduct, molasses. Of course, because of its deep taste, molasses won't work in all baked goods, but is delicious in banana bread (as I can testify) and ginger cookies and gingerbread, and worth experimenting with in other breads and baked goods. I've tried it in carrot halwa with delicious results. The bottle you see here is organic fair-trade molasses that I found in Whole Foods.

PB Banana Bread with CC

PBbanana

(adapted from Vegetarian Times, makes 1 loaf)
1. Preheat oven to 350F.

2. Spray a loaf pan with oil.

3. Dry ingredients: In a large bowl, mix
1 C white whole-wheat flour
1/3 C sugar
1 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/4 t salt

4. Wet ingredients: In a medium bow, mix
2 medium over-ripe bananas, mashed
1/3 C unsweetened crunchy peanut butter
1/4 C plain non-fat yogurt
1 large egg
1 T oil
1 T low-fat milk
2 T molasses

5. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredient bowl and stir gently to combine. Stir in 1/3 C chocolate chips.

6. Pour the batter into loaf pan. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Cool, slice and serve.

The Verdict: Utterly delicious! I ate a slice just after baking this loaf, and it was divine. The molasses and banana flavors seem to be made for each other. The crunch and richness of the peanut butter, coming upon the ocassional gooey chocolate chip- this recipe is a keeper. This is worth going out and buying bananas for!

P.S. If you don't like peanut butter, you might want to make this delicious nutella variation from Daily Musings.

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A note to fellow bloggers: If you are interested, please do participate in Blog Action Day 2007, simply by writing a post on any issue related to the environment on Monday, October 15th.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Indian Toast?

Bee and Jai of Jugalbandi (home to dozens of drool-worthy pictures) are hosting a new themed food photography event. The event, called CLICK, kicks off this month with the theme: Eggs!



Eggs are on the weekend brunch menu nearly every weekend at our home. We are loyal to our favorite dishes, and I love a spicy, savory brunch, so it is usually a choice between Pateta par Eeda, Egg-Onion Float, Omelette, and a fourth eggy dish that I have not blogged yet, French toast, Indian style. This last dish is completely unlike American-style French toast, which is usually rich and sweet, and drenched in syrup or showered with sugar. Indian French toast kicks it up a notch, with flecks of green chillies and cilantro clinging to savory golden brown fried bread (I wonder what the French think of either of these two types of "French" toast). It would be so much more elegant to serve the Indian-style French toast with a sweet and sour chutney or relish, but I am a slave to nostalgia, and eat my French toast with ketchup, exactly the way I loved it as a child.

Indian French Toast

(makes 2 hearty brunch servings)
1. In a shallow bowl, beat 3 eggs.
2. Add 2 T finely minced onion, 1-2 finely minced green chillies, 2 T finely minced cilantro, 1 T milk/ cream and salt and pepper to taste.
3. Dip 4 slices of bread (stale bread works great!) into the eggy mixture for a couple of minutes on each side, to allow the egg mixture to soak through.
4. Fry on a lightly oiled skillet until golden brown on each side.

The food blog world is home to some highly talented photographers; their creativity far exceeds that of the pros whose pictures are splashed across food magazines and advertisements, in my opinion. I have a lot to learn from them. While I love taking pictures of food to go along with my posts, I never get around to spending the time and effort, and mustering the creative energy to pull off "real" shoots. A complex combination of greed and impatience (and hungry looks from friends and family who are waiting to dig in) ensures that I shoot my food on the double. So this entry to their event is purely for fun and in the spirit of participation!

The pictures, as usual, were taken at top speed, before the precious toast got too cold to eat. I used a Canon PowerShot digital camera with the Macro mode. I usually do use the Macro mode because food shots are close-ups. And I never use a flash, mostly because I have yet to take a decent food picture using a flash!

I liked these two pictures and I can't choose between them: #1 has three bright contrasting colors on the white background of the plate- green herbs, red ketchup (no food is as shamelessly red as ketchup, is it??), and the golden-brown toast. This looks quite cheerful to me. In picture #2, I tried to get arty :D with a fork tempting the viewer to take a bite (don't laugh, I'm trying my best here). Many thanks to Kalyn for the thoughtful gift of that gorgeous "prop" fork.

Please help me choose one picture as the entry. Leave a comment telling me whether you prefer picture #1 or #2; thanks a ton for your input! I'll count the votes on Thursday night and send off the higher-vote picture as my entry.

#1: A Bright Start to the Day
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#2: Won't You Take a Bite?
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P.S.: I spent some time working on the Recipe Index and I hope it will be a bit more user-friendly now. The internal links should make it easier to browse through the index.

Friday, September 28, 2007

On a Blogging Break

One Hot Stove is going to be resting for a few days as I take a blogging break. Meanwhile, if anyone is interested, here is my September article for The Daily Tiffin: Little Shutterbugs.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

One Microwave Oven, Three Vegetables

This post is being sent to Srivalli for her Microwave Easy Cooking event. The theme this month is Basics.

My favorite way to use the microwave oven for a basic cooking step: I use it for cooking vegetables in a jiffy. IMHO, the microwave oven cooks vegetables in a jiffy, saving much time and fuel in the bargain, and results in vegetables that are cooked to just the right tenderness, with a lot of the flavor, color and nutrition preserved. Here are three vegetables that I often cook in the microwave oven, with an easy recipe for each.

Note: The power of different microwave ovens varies wildly, and the power of a microwave oven reduces significantly as it ages. Mine is a relatively new one, and cooks food in very little time. The only thing to do is play with your microwave and standardize cooking times for yourself.

First up, emerald-green broccoli: I know, I know, none of the cool kids like broccoli. I happen to love it, but V, who is astonishingly non-fussy otherwise, makes it a point to wrinkle his nose at broccoli. But he does love Broccoli-Cheese soup. Here is a simple recipe for this delicious soup; I start by cooking the broccoli in the microwave oven. The soup gets made as usual on the stove-top, but with the cooked broccoli, it gets made in minutes.

Broccoli Cheese Soup

1. Wash a bunch of broccoli and cut it into florets (2-3 cups in all). Sprinkle with 1 T water.

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2. Microwave the broccoli for 2-3 minutes, until tender. Set aside.

broc2

3. The rest of the recipe is made on the stove-top. To make the soup, heat 1 T butter in a saucepan. Saute 1/2 C chopped onion and 2 cloves minced garlic in the butter until fragrant.
4. Stir in 1 T flour and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add 3/4 C milk and stir to make a sauce.
5. Now add the cooked broccoli and 2 C water. Bring to a boil. Turn off the heat.
6. Stir in 1 C loosely packed cheese (I tend to use cheddar or Monterey Jack), salt to taste (remember cheese is salty, so go easy), pepper and red pepper flakes (optional). Blend the soup using a blender/ food processor/ immersion blender. Reheat before serving.

broc3



The humble potato: Sometimes, especially by the end of the work-week, I am almost out of vegetables but tend to have some potatoes handy. This is a side-dish that goes well with any Indian meal, or also as an off-beat accompaniment to sandwiches.

Dahi Batata (Potato in Yogurt)

1. To cook potatoes in the microwave, I simply wash them, prick each potato 3-4 times with a fork, then place it on the microwave turntable and cook for 2 minutes. Then it turn it over and cook it for 2 more minutes. In my microwave, this results in tender, delicious, non-soggy potatoes every single time (Microwave-cooked potatoes are ideal for potato parathas because they you are sure the parathas won't turn out soggy).

Potato1

2. To make this easy side-dish, dahi batata, peel the potato (or don't) and cut into medium cubes.
3. In a bowl, whip together some yogurt, salt, red chilli powder and cumin-coriander powder. Stir in the potato cubes. Garnish with cilantro if desired.

Potato2


The gorgeous sweet potato: I am always looking for new ways to cook this delicious and nutritious vegetable. Tarla Dalal's "Chaat" cookbook has a chaat involving sweet potatoes. That recipe involves several chutneys and a long list of ingredients, and looks nothing like this, but it inspired me to make this easy and tasty side dish/ snack. I used whole baby sweet potatoes here, but one could use the big ones and simply slice them.

Ratala "Chaat"


sweetpot

1. Prick 6 baby potatoes/ 1-2 medium sweet potatoes with a fork 2-3 times each. Place on a microwave-safe plate and microwave for 2 minutes on each side, or until knife-tender (time will depend on the size of the sweet potato, as well as the number being cooked at once).
2. Split the sweet potatoes open, then sprinkle with salt, red chilli powder, chaat masala, and a few drops of fresh lemon juice. Serve warm or at room temperature. Peel and eat!

The next use of the microwave oven: Roasting Papad. A few types of papads can be roasted, but most require deep-frying. Here are two that I regularly microwave for a delicious crunchy accompaniment to dal-rice suppers. I microwave papads one at a time, directly on the microwave turntable (I tried placing the papads on a plate, but they seem to roast unevenly and take much longer). After each one, I wipe down the droplets of condensation from the turnable, which ensures that the next papad does not stick on.

Lijjat papad, which are made with urad dal and are available in lots of flavors- garlic, cumin, black pepper- need about 25 seconds of nuking in my microwave to go from this...

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to this...

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This one is a traditional Tamilian appalam, one of my very favorite papads. It take about 35 seconds to go from this...

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to this...

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Other ways I use my microwave oven: to boil water quickly for single servings of tea, or when I need a small amount of hot water for, say, soaking tamarind to make tamarind pulp. I toast nuts and spices in the microwave, which works beautifully, but needs a close watch to prevent them from burning.

Here is another use of my microwave: to disinfect kitchen sponges: I regularly get the sponges sopping wet, then microwave them for 1-2 minutes on HIGH. The heating of the wet sponge kills off a lot of the bacteria that kitchen sponges invariably collect. While it is effective, this technique can pose a fire hazard so consider yourself warned! Once microwaved, the sponge will be very hot, so let it cool down before removing it from the microwave, or handle with tongs.

Got any clever microwave tips? Leave a comment if you would like to share them. I'll be back on the weekend!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Sunday Supper: Pizza Night

I have been blogging about food for well over two years, and pizza has yet to make an appearance here. How on earth did this happen? Perhaps I was intimidated by all the wonderful pizzas already out there on the food blogs. In any case, this is a lapse that I am about to fix today. This is also a reader-request recipe: Sharvari requested a pizza recipe in a comment on this post, and many many weeks later, here it is.

Pizza has certainly been a favorite food of mine for many years. I have been digging into pizza from a very early age, long before pizza chains descended on Indian cities, long before I moved to graduate school in NYC, where pizza is not just food, it is a food group. All credit for the early pizza nights goes to my ever-creative mother. Living in a relatively small town with ultra-conservative food tastes never deterred her in the least. In the years of growing up in Kolhapur, I attended perhaps a couple hundred different social events, but they all had exactly the *same* menu- Kolhapuri tambda rassa (red mutton curry), pandhra rassa (white mutton stew), dry-fried mutton, dahi kanda (onion-yogurt relish), thick chapatis and jeera (cumin) rice; gulab jamuns for dessert. I kid you not. If you served anything else, there was the danger of armed revolt. In the midst of this rather bleak culinary landscape, my mother served baked vegetables and baked corn at her dinner parties, and jelly-custard (Brown and Polson brand, anyone remember that one?), set in pretty little bowls for dessert. She procured macaroni and spaghetti and cooked the pasta in a tomato-Amul cheese sauce (a recipe that started with my grandmother, believe it or not...it must be in the genes. I can only hope). She made sweet corn soup and stir-fried noodles long before "Indian-Chinese" cuisine came into vogue. She hosted burger nights, with mincemeat burgers tucked into pav-bhaji buns, garnished with cabbage and carrot shreds. And she made pizza. We enjoyed Maharashtrian food and other Indian cuisines as much as anyone else, but we also got a chance to try something new every so often.

Aai's pizza started off as "bread pizza" with the sauce spread on regular sliced bread and sprinkled with Amul cheese. Later, as an enterprising local store-owner started to carry a more extensive inventory, she would buy pizza bases, small 6-inch discs of par-baked bread. No matter what, the pizza would always be pan-baked on the stove to a crispy and golden finish, because my parents only had one tiny electric oven and it was stored away to be used strictly for birthday cakes.

Coming back to pizza. For the home cook, a pizza base represents a blank canvas on which to experiment with an assortment of sauces, a potpourri of toppings and wild combinations of sauces and toppings. Our other favorites sauce, apart from the tomato sauce that follows, is classis basil pesto. I have a long list of pizzas on the to-make list as well- caramelized onion and sage, and one that I ate in a wonderful pizzeria in NYC- ricotta, paper-thin slices of potato and walnuts, all drizzled with fragrant olive oil. But the humble and messy tomato sauce that follows remains the firm favorite in our home.

Aai's Pizza Sauce


piz1

Ingredients:
1 medium onion, chopped fine
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 large bell pepper (green/red/yellow), chopped fine
2 cups tomato puree (fresh or canned)
1 T extra-virgin olive oil
1 t red chilli powder (or to taste)
1 T ketchup or 1 t sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
Method:
1. Heat the oil in a saucepan.
2. Saute the garlic and onion until fragrant and transluscent (not browned).
3. Stir in the pepper and fry for 3-4 minutes.
4. Add the tomato, chilli powder and sugar. Simmer for 15-25 minutes, uncovered or partially covered, or until the sauce is thick (the time will depend on how watery the tomatoes were to begin with).
5. Season with salt and pepper and let it cool to room temperature. A thick sauce is of utmost importance, IMHO, because a watery sauce will make the crust soggy.

Next comes the dough. Since I have the privilege of living in a home with a full-size oven, and having access to yeast, I make the dough myself. I use a food processor to make the dough but it is by no means necessary. You can make the dough by hand: use a bowl and a wooden spoon for the initial mixing, and then place the dough on a floured surface and knead with your hands. I have used Bittman's recipe for many years with consistently good results. I feel that pizza dough is very forgiving and a good way for newbies to get into baking. It is certainly the first bread that I started baking on a regular basis.

Pizza Dough

(Adapted from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman)
1. Take 1/4 C warm (not hot!) water in a small bowl. Add 1/2 t sugar and 1 t active dry yeast to it. Let it stand for 5-10 minutes or until the yeast become active and the solution starts to froth. (If you use instant or bread machine yeast, this proofing step can be skipped and you can add the yeast directly to step 2.
2. In the food processor bowl fitted with a dough blade, add 2 C plain flour, 1 C whole-wheat flour, 1 t salt and the yeast solution. Pulse to combine.
3. With the motor running, add about 1 C water and 1-2 T olive oil (I use two glugs), until the dough comes together as a slightly sticky, elastic ball (add more water or a little more flour as required to achieve this).
4. Take the dough ball out, knead it on a floured surface for a minute, then place in an oiled bowl. Cover with damp cloth or plastic wrap, and let it rise for 1-2 hours. Left-over pizza dough can be frozen for future use.

Assembling and Baking:
Preheat the oven (with pizza stone inside) to 475 degrees for 20-25 minutes (you want the oven and the stone to get very very hot). A pizza stone is a flat stone/ unglazed ceramic tile that helps in creating a crisp crunchy pizza crust.

As the oven pre-heats, make the pizza base. Sprinkle some cornmeal (coarsely ground corn) or semolina (rava) on a pizza peel (a paddle used to transfer the base onto the hot stone). Divide the dough into two portions for two large pizzas (serving 2-3 each) or into 4-6 portions for individual-sized pizzas. Start stretching the dough on the pizza peel either by hand or using a rolling pin with gentle pressure. Periodically, you may have to let the dough "rest" for a few minutes to let it become more pliable.

Note: If you do not own a pizza stone and pizza peel, you can make the pizza on a regular rectangular or circular baking sheet. Lightly oil the sheet with olive oil. Place dough on the baking sheet and press down as above to make the pizza base.

Spread pizza sauce on the pizza base, leaving the edges unsauced. It is better to go easy with the sauce so that the pizza does not get soggy. I often serve some sauce on the side as a dipping sauce, rather than drowning the pizza with it. Sprinkle with toppings of your choice ad then with bits/ slices of mozzarella. I don't like the dry and rubbery pre-shredded mozzarella from the supermarket and always seek out fresh balls of mozzarella that look like the one here.

For beginner pizza-makers, smaller pizzas are much easier to make and transfer to the pizza stone etc. This time I tried making a larger one and it worked fine, but was more difficult to transfer to and from the oven. We topped half the pizza with onions, red peppers and olives and topped the other half with onions and slices of Morningstar fake "chicken" wings (the latter is a guilty and occasional pleasure for us).
piz2


Transfer the pizza from the peel to the pizza stone gently (shaking the peel back and forth gently to release the pizza and slide it onto the stone). If you made the pizza on a baking sheet, simply place the sheet in the oven. Bake for 10-15 mins, or until the crust is crispy and golden, and the cheese is browning and bubbling.
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Cut into wedges and dig in! Jars of dried oregano and red pepper flakes can be offered at the table to enhance the pizzeria experience.
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Have a great week ahead, everyone!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Wokking Away

< excruciating puns> A few weeks ago, after lots of dilly-dallying and back-and-forthing, I welcomed a new arrival into my kitchen: a shiny new huge carbon steel wok. This momentous decision was no wok in the park! It took a great deal of reading and googling and research to figure out that the wok material that is overwhelmingly preferred by traditional Chinese cooks is carbon steel. This material is ideal for heating to intensely high temperature for searing and stir-frying, but it also means that, unlike the other low-maintenance equipment in my kitchen, the wok is a fussbudget. It requires careful seasoning when you first buy it, and seasoning every time you cook in it. After cooking, you have to wash it gently only in warm water, then heat it to dry it completely, and coat it with a thin film of oil before storing it away. It is like wokking on eggshells to make sure that you keep the rust away. A wok on the wild side, you might say. Well, I can talk the talk, but will I be able to wok the wok? < /excruciating puns>

Bad jokes aside, I *heart* my wok! Since I bought it, we have been cooking so much take-out-style Chinese food. It all started when I wrote about some Sichuan food that I enjoyed in Chicago. Right away, Manisha and Zlamushka both referred me to a wonderful cookbook called Land of Plenty by Fuschia Dunlop. (doesn't she have the most delicious name?)
dunlop

This is an outstanding cookbook if ever I saw one. Dunlop (who is British) went to the Sichuanese province in China as a student for a few months, fell in love with the cuisine, and went on to become a full-time student in the cooking school there. She learnt how to read, write and speak Chinese, and the cookbook represents recipes that she has personally experienced there. It is an incredible ode to an incredible cuisine.

The dish that I was trying to make was the one I ate in that Sichuan restaurant- Ma Po Tofu. Dunlop translates the name as "Pock-Marked Mother Chen's Bean Curd", named after the person who is said to have created it. Sichuan cooking has a rigorous theoretical basis, it looks like, with 23 flavors and 56 cooking methods. This dish falls under the hot-and-numbing flavor, which tells you a thing or two! I have been cooking almost exclusively with extra-firm tofu or firm tofu, but I think soft tofu is best in this dish. I see soft tofu sold as just "tofu" without any qualifiers in Trader Joe's. The main flavor in this dish comes from Sichuanese chilli bean paste. I was able to find that easily in the international store. It is an addictively tasty paste.
sauce


As usual, my version has been adapted from the book. The changes I made to the original recipe are:
1. The recipe calls for 1/2 C oil, I reduce it to 2 T because I'm just not that brave a person.
2. The recipe calls for leeks, with scallions as an alternative. I used scallions. Dunlop specifies that the leeks or scallions should be cut on the bias- in diagonal slices; what Sichuanese cuisine vividly refers to as "horse ear" slices.
3. The original recipe calls for ground beef. I used soy granules, but this can be omitted altogether, she says.
4. For extra flavor, the recipe adds some fermented black beans but I skipped these (they are already present in the paste).
5. Chilli fiends are instructed to add some ground Sichuanese chillies but I did not have these either (anyway, I doubt either V or me can handle that much heat).
6. The final sprinkle on the dish is some ground Sichuan pepper. This is an ingredient that is very similar to (or possibly the same as) tirphal or teppal used in some Konkani or Goan dishes. It has a very distinct "tingly" taste. I skipped this ingredient too. So you see, my version is very watered-down, but it was extremely tasty anyway. When I get a chance to buy all those other ingredients, I look forward to making it the real thing.

Ma Po Dou Fu

(Adapted from Land of Plenty: A Treasury of Authentic Sichuan Cooking by Fuschia Dunlop, serves 2-3)
MaPo1

Ingredients:
1 block tofu, cut into cubes
3-4 scallions (green onions/ spring onions), sliced on the bias (at an angle)
2 T peanut oil
1/3 C soy granules (rehydrated TVP or Nutrela granules)
2 T Sichuan chilli-bean paste (or to taste)
1.5 C vegetable stock or water
2 T soy sauce
1 t sugar
1 T cornstarch, dissolved in 1/4 C cold water
Method:
1. In a seasoned wok, heat the oil until it is smoking. Add the soy granules and stir for a few seconds. Turn down the heat to medium.
2. Stir in chilli-bean paste and fry for a few more seconds.
3. Add the veg stock or water and let it simmer.
4. Add the tofu cubes and stir gently. Simmer them for 5 minutes.
5. Add the scallions and let them cook for 2-3 minutes.
6. Stir in soy sauce and sugar.
7. Add cornstarch mixture, drizzling it all over the wok, until the sauce thickens and becomes glossy. Only add as much as you need. Check for seasoning and serve right away!

I served the tofu with some stir-fried vegetable noodles for a superb meal.
MaPo2


Raaga commented that I am seem to be in love with soy granules/ TVP these days :) Well, I'm afraid it is a bit of a misrepresentation...this is what happens when you decide to publish a flurry of posts that have been languishing in the drafts for several weeks. With this post, the run of East Asian-inspired dishes comes to an end (for now!) and we will return to the regular programming- with some good old Indian food :D Meanwhile, if you have any favorite wok recipes, I would love to get recommendations!

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A few days ago, Nags challenged us to Show Her Our Cookbooks and reveal our very favorite cookbook.

Many avid cooks amass vast collections of cookbooks. Mine is a very modest one, and a *very* motley collection, at that. It represents all the loving family and friends in my life who go out of their way to spoil me rotten encourage my hobby by gifting me cookbooks or giving me gift cards to bookstores. Here is the first shelf...
cbooks1


And the second one...
cbooks2


I have spoken of my current favorite cookbook many many times, but here it is again, just for the record...
worldveg

World Vegetarian by Madhur Jaffrey.

5 reasons I love this book:
1. It has hundreds of meatless recipes- a treasury of ideas for anyone who looks forward to a delicious vegetarian dinner every night.
2. The recipes come from all over the world from Brazil to Korea, Trinidad to Vietnam- you can taste the world, one dish at a time.
3. The recipes are home-style, often with names like Cheryl Rathkopf's Sri Lankan White Egg Curry and My sister, Kamal's "Alan ka Saag". They represent the best of home cooking.
4. Every ingredient, say, "Greens" or "Buckwheat" starts with an introduction of the food, its different forms/types and then an array of recipes to use the ingredient. There is such a wealth of information stored in this book. The words carry their own weight, and splashy pictures are restricted to a few pages in the centerfold.
5. All the recipes that I have tried from it have become instant favorites- Lubia Polo, Sri Lankan Mustard Greens and Oriya Mashed Potatoes to name just three.

See you on the weekend!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Sunday Supper: Potstickers

This post is part of the 7 S series: Soup, Salad, Sandwich, Snack, Street food for Sunday Supper. These are light(er) meals for Sunday night; a tasty way to end indulgent weekends and get ready for a new week. A way to use the vegetable goodness brought home on Saturday mornings. A chance to try something a new recipe, a new ingredient or a new cuisine every weekend.

Today we are enjoying my favorite kind of dinner- making a meal out of appetizers. Filling up on snacks. Potstickers are a Chinese take-out favorite here in the US. Basically, these are cute little dumplings plumped up with a tasty filling. They can be steamed or boiled or fried...or pan-fried, and this last one is generally called a potsticker or gyoza.

The new addition to my pantry this week is dumpling wrappers: paper-thin discs of flour that make it a snap to put together home-made dumplings. At least, I was seeking dumpling wrappers. All I could find that day was square wonton wrappers, and decided to go with these instead. Dumpling and wonton wrappers can be found in either the refrigerated or the frozen section in "gourmet" food stores and international markets, and certainly in Chinese grocery stores. They are quickly becoming mainstream enough to be stocked in many regular supermarkets too. Here is my first attempt at making dumplings. Cabbage and other greens are traditional vegetarian dumpling fillings. I used my favorite combination of spinach and mushrooms, and added some soy crumbles (also sold as TVP, i.e., textured vegetable protein, or Nutrela granules) to mimic the minced pork that is filled into meat dumplings.

Spinach-Mushroom Potstickers


Making the filling: In a small pan, heat 1 t peanut oil. Saute 2 minced cloves of garlic, 2 packed C finely chopped fresh spinach (can use frozen) and 5-6 finely chopped mushrooms. Cook, uncovered, so that the mixture does not become watery. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in a big pinch of red pepper flakes (optional) and 1/2 C soy crumbles. Turn off heat, then add 1 drop ginger extract (or add minced ginger along with the garlic), and a few drops of toasted sesame oil.

Filling the filling into the wrappers: With the round dumpling skins, you just fold down the middle to get a half-moon shaped dumpling. With my square wrappers, I tried it two ways: to get triangular dumplings...
potst1

...and rectangular ones...
potst2

In each case, moisten the edges of the wrapper with some water, place a teaspoonful of filling inside and seal the dumpling by pressing the wet edges together.
Pan-frying the dumpling: This is the "potsticker" bit, resulting in part-fried and part-steamed dumplings. Drizzle 1 T peanut oil all over a wide pan and heat it. Place the dumplings in a single layer in the pan. Fry the dumplings, with the pan uncovered, for a few minutes on one side only, until the underside gets a lovely golden-brown surface. Now, add 2/3 C water to the pan (stand back, it will sizzle!) and cover the pan. The steam created in the pan will steam the dumplings. Once all the water has vaporized, and the dumplings appear cooked and transluscent, remove them from the pan and serve them right away with your favorite dipping sauce (I made this one by mixing soy sauce, honey, ginger, scallions and a few drops of toasted sesame oil).
potst3


These potstickers made for a wonderful meal in a Bet You Can't Just Eat One way! Uncooked filled dumplings can be frozen for future use. Just freeze them on a baking sheet so that they do not stick to each other; once they are frozen solid, they can be bagged/ boxed. I still have some wrappers left over and intend to use them either to make wontons (little dumpling purses) for wonton soup, or to make ravioli.

***** ****** *******

Weekend City Blogging


This weekend, we enjoyed the annual Great Forest Park Balloon Race here in St. Louis. Beautiful pleasant temperatures, a blue, blue canopy, colorful balloons dotting the afternoon sky; bathed in sparkling sunshine...my spirits soared! I took these photos from our street.
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