In June, I had the honor of hosting les culinettes, the cooking club I’ve been participating in for the past few months. Back then- a whole month ago!- my schedule was just free enough to accommodate a dinner party, but as the weeks fly by and freelance work* and wedding planning have been ratcheting up, blogging has sadly been relegated to the back burner (non-intended food pun, I swear).
*I’ve been developing and testing recipes for holiday food the last several weeks… strange but fun!
But rather than lament my absence here, I’d prefer to reflect on what was a beautiful balmy spring eve with good friends and great food. Our theme was “green”, in honor of fresh green vegetables finally being in the markets. Seems funny to think of it now, with temps in the 90s all week, but in mid-June we were just starting to see peas, asparagus and the like. Several people did use spring vegetables in their dishes, but the menu was surprisingly diverse, with others interpreting the “green” theme more loosely.
I had gotten up at 7am that day to get the house in order; in addition to cleaning, I wanted to hang a few pictures and curtains (nothing like company to get you motivated to do things around the house… I should entertain every weekend, I’d be so productive!). I was a machine all day, with just enough time to start getting my dishes ready as the dinner hour approached. Fortunately the theme wasn’t the only thing that was loosely interpreted, as most of the ladies arrived about 45 minutes after the appointed time, giving me a welcome opportunity to chill in the kitchen with a glass of wine and prep my food a bit more leisurely.
We decided to break up the meal into courses and eat the first round outdoors- it was one of those warm evenings with the barest of breezes, that elusive weather we long for in the depths of winter’s chill and summer’s scorch. The food was sublime, in every way a worthy match for the splendid weather. For appetizers, we had pea pesto and pea hummus on crostini made by Meghan, and a gorgeous grass-green fava purée topped with feta and kalamata olives that Abigail made with favas from her garden. The favas, which we spread on Zingerman’s baguette (only the best!), had the most amazing velvety texture that I was obsessed with, and a little spicy kick. Continue reading
We’ve all heard the term “armchair travel” to refer to reading books that take place in far-flung locales. Back in my 20s I did much more actual traveling- all over Europe and in Japan- but now, saddled with a mortgage and a 9-to-5, most of my travel is of the virtual variety. Some of that takes place between the covers of a book, but when I can, I try to take it a step further by “stovetop traveling”; cooking things with new and exotic flavors that make me feel a little less wistful about not getting to go places firsthand.
Clockwise from top left: dal, aloo gosht, cucumber raita, mango pickle, naan, tahiri, saag
A couple of books I’ve read recently have made me want to delve deeper into the flavors of India- first there was Modern Spice by Monica Bhide, and more recently, Climbing the Mango Trees by Madhur Jaffrey. After finishing Jaffrey’s book, I could practically taste and smell the pungent spices of her homeland, and I immediately began plotting an Indian feast.
The dish Jaffrey describes as conjuring the most homey memories for her is Aloo Gosht (literally “Potatoes and Meat”), a popular dish in Northern India & Pakistan. This dish is not for the faint of palate- it’s a rich, savory riot of warm flavors- but the meat and potatoes place it firmly in the realm of “comfort food”. The meat in question when prepared in the U.S. is typically lamb; however, Jaffrey says that in India/Pakistan it would almost always be prepared with goat. In the spirit of authenticity, I tracked down some goat in a trip to Eastern Market. If you’ve never had goat meat before, I urge you to try it, especially if you like lamb. It’s less gamy, leaner, and a lot less expensive (try finding boneless lamb shoulder for $2.99 a pound!).
There are many recipes out there for Aloo Gosht, but most of them that I found seemed “dumbed down” compared to Jaffrey’s. Unlike some recipes (whose authors might be under the assumption that many ingredients are unavailable here?), she doesn’t skimp on the aromatics and spices. One thing I used in this recipe that was new to me was black cardamom. It is very different from green cardamom, the spice used in baking. It comes in a large black pod and has a smoky, earthy aroma. It wasn’t at all difficult to find; I picked it up at Penzey’s. Although I couldn’t distinctly pick it out in the finished curry, its flavor was definitely noticeable in the rice I made (a dish called Tahiri, an aromatic rice with peas- if you’d like to try it, Jaffrey’s recipe is reprinted word for word from her book here).
I followed the recipe to the letter as far as ingredients and quantities, but then parted ways with Jaffrey’s cooking method, which I didn’t really understand. She called for aggressively cooking the meat, whereas I opted for a longer, slower braise- I wanted the goat to be very tender, and I was afraid that cooking it over high heat would toughen the meat. She also would have had me add an additional three cups water towards the end, which made no sense to me at all since the consistency of the sauce seemed just right. Not to question the great Madhur Jaffrey, but who knows, different heat, cooking vessels, and a number of other variables can produce a different result- sometimes it’s best to just trust your instincts on these things because I don’t think my Aloo Gosht could have turned out more perfectly. I can see why this is a favorite over there; it’s definitely a dish that will reappear on my dinner table.
Aloo Gosht (Potato & Meat Curry) adapted from the book From Curries to Kebabs: Recipes from the Indian Spice Trail by Madhur Jaffrey
2 lbs lamb or goat meat in 1 1/2-in. cubes, with or without bones
6 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 to 3 fresh hot green chilies, roughly chopped
3-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled & roughly chopped
1 1/4 cup thinly sliced shallots
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp cayenne pepper (use more or less to taste)
2 medium tomatoes (about 10 oz), chopped (if tomato quality is less than stellar, add a tsp or so of tomato paste)
1 3/4 tsp salt
2 whole black cardamom pods
1 medium cinnamon stick
1 lb small red waxy potatoes, peeled & cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks (leave whole if small)
1/2 tsp garam masala
4 Tbs chopped cilantro
This is really a pretty straightforward and easy recipe, don’t be intimidated by the ingredients list. Most items should be readily available; if you can’t find black cardamom just leave it out. In her cookbook Jaffrey suggests asking an Indian grocer for “meat for curry” and you’ll get a mixture of boneless and bone-in already-cubed pieces. The butcher I went to only had boneless ready, but obliged me by taking a goat that was hanging up and cutting up some bone-in leg pieces for me.
Place the ginger, garlic and green chilies in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped, stopping before you reach a paste. Put the coriander seeds in a clean coffee or spice grinder and grind to a coarse powder.
Pour the oil into a large heavy lidded pot such as a Dutch oven and set over medium high heat. When hot, add the shallots and fry for about 5 minutes or until golden brown. Stir in the ginger mixture and fry another 2 minutes. Add the meat and stir for a minute or so. Add the coriander, turmeric and cayenne. Add 1 cup water and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste (if using), salt, and another 2 cups water. Stir and cook, covered, for 10 minutes. Add the cinnamon, black cardamom and potatoes. Replace the cover and reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook for about 45 minutes to an hour, or until the meat is very tender and the potatoes are cooked through.
Taste the sauce and correct for salt or spiciness if needed. If the sauce seems at all thin, you can cook uncovered for an additional 10 minutes or so to reduce it (I didn’t need to). It should be neither thick nor watery. Sprinkle with the garam masala and cilantro before serving. This curry is best served with rice and something cooling on the side such as cucumber raita (shredded cucumbers mixed with yogurt and a little salt) to balance the warm and savory flavors. Serves 6-8 as part of an Indian meal.
I’m sure most of you have heard of the Daring Bakers, the group of bloggers who bake a selected recipe each month and post about it on a specified day. The group recently expanded to a new branch, the Daring Cooks. I think this is the third month of the Daring Cooks and I decided to jump on board. I don’t know how regular I’ll be able to be, but this recipe appealed to me so I thought I’d give it a go.
The challenge (hosted by Debyi at Healthy Vegan Kitchen) was for dosas, a type of Indian pancake which was unfamiliar to me. (You can check out my annotated version of the recipe here.) It’s always interesting to prepare a recipe for which you have no point of reference… The perfectionist in me has a little bit of a hard time not knowing how something is “supposed to” turn out.
The recipe for the dosas was fairly similar to that of French crêpes, without the egg. However, some of the South Asians posting in the forums said dosa batter is typically made of soaked, fermented lentils and rice, which sounded great- similar to the bread in Ethiopian restaurants. Unfortunately I didn’t plan ahead enough to accommodate the 12-hour fermentation period, so I had to make the flour-based recipe. I chose a combination of whole wheat and buckwheat flours, and added a touch of cider vinegar to try to emulate the sourness of the fermented version. I have lots of leftover filling and sauce though, so I’m hoping to get a chance to try the more traditional recipe for the dosa pancakes later this week.
Marvin was off eating curry of a different sort (curried goat!) in Jamaica last weekend, so I invited a girlfriend over Sunday night to partake in the dosas with me. I did have a couple small issues with the recipe instructions, but the overall outcome was good (my guest had a second helping- never a bad sign!). I was happy to break bread with a friend, try something new, and especially to have leftovers for the week. Cheers to Debyi for hosting an interesting and delicious challenge!
When I worked at Book Beat, many of my co-workers were fine cooks and appreciators of fresh, organic and/or locally grown food. Conversation often turned to sharing ideas and recipes for whatever we had cooked recently, and especially in the winter, the topic was usually soup. I had the idea last winter that we should each make a big batch of something and then trade, since I would usually get tired of eating the same soup for a week straight. For whatever reason, it never came together, but I held on to the idea and finally decided that post-holidays was a perfect time to get a big pot of soup on and get together with a few girlfriends. There were four of us total, and we each made a 3-cup container of soup for each of the other participants to take home, as well as a bit extra for us to all sample that day. I made a loaf of bread and a salad, and we all ate small portions of everyone’s soup (and in my case, big portions of bread!). It was a wonderful way to spend a chilly winter afternoon. Dessert was courtesy of Marvin, who had just been at Shatila Bakery in Dearborn the day before.
All the soups were delicious and we had a great variety: from Michelle, a lamb, barley and escarole soup; from Sarah, an Eastern European-style vegetarian cabbage stew, and a creamy chicken noodle soup courtesy of Kate. I’m first going to post the recipes for the two soups I made (yes, I couldn’t help myself from making two… I already had all the ingredients and couldn’t decide!). The recipes for the other three will be posted shortly. I encourage you to organize your own soup swaps; it’s a great way to get a fridge full of great leftovers with only a little effort!
Note: Both of the soups below can easily be converted to vegetarian or vegan versions by using a good vegetable stock in place of the chicken stock, and by substituting vegetable oil where butter is called for. Also, both soups are adapted from a great little cookbook called Once Upon a Tart, which gets a good deal of use in my kitchen.
Tomato-Chickpea Soup with Rosemary (adapted from Once Upon a Tart)
This soup is ridiculously easy to make, and with the exception of the fresh rosemary, consists entirely of items I almost always have in my pantry. (I know, I need to grow some window herbs.) The partial puréeing gives it a rich, almost creamy consistency. If you wanted to, I bet cannellini beans would be a good stand-in for the chickpeas. It tastes great plain, but to take it to the next level, garnish with a little grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padana and some garlic croûtons.
1 28-oz can + 1 14-oz can diced tomatoes- I like the Petite Dice for this (see notes)
2 15-oz cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed (see notes)
1 large yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced fine
1 large or 2 small sprigs fresh rosemary, needles removed from stem and chopped fine
4 cups chicken stock
3-4 tbs olive oil
salt, sugar and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Notes: If tomatoes are in season, by all means use fresh- you would need 4 lbs plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced. If you’d like to use dried chickpeas, soak 2 cups overnight in plenty of cold water. When ready to cook, drain and rinse the chickpeas and bring to a boil in 4 cups unsalted water. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered until tender; this will probably take about an hour.
Directions: Pour enough olive oil in your soup pot to generously coat the bottom, and warm over medium-high heat. Add the diced onions and a sprinkling of salt and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions begin to reduce in volume (about 10 minutes). After the first couple minute, lower the heat to medium. After the onions have softened and cooked down a bit, add the garlic and rosemary, adding a little additional olive oil if necessary so nothing sticks. Let the garlic cook for a few minutes to infuse its flavor into the oil.
Add the drained chickpeas and stock and bring to a simmer. Let simmer gently for 20 minutes; then turn off the heat and add the tomatoes, a pinch of sugar, and a few grinds of black pepper.
If you have an immersion blender, ladle about 1/3 of the soup into another container. Purée the remaining 2/3 of the soup in the pan, and then recombine. If you are using a blender or food processor, remove 2/3 of the soup and purée, then return it to the pan to recombine. Either way, be careful not to burn yourself with hot soup! Taste for salt, sugar and pepper (you may not need any salt depending on how salty your stock and tomatoes were). Gently reheat. The soup may separate on standing, but just give it a good stir before serving.
Curried Corn Chowder with Coconut Milk (adapted from Once Upon a Tart)
This soup also uses the technique of puréeing part of the soup to give a creamy texture, and leaving part chunky. It is best served the day it is made, but I ate some leftovers the next day and it still was pretty good!
1 large yellow onion, diced
1 14-oz can light coconut milk
1 16-oz bag frozen corn, preferably organic, or 4-5 ears fresh corn if in season, kernels sliced from cob
4 cups chicken stock
4-5 small redskin potatoes scrubbed and cut into bite-sized dice (if substituting a larger type of potato, peel it)- about 1 1/2 to 2 cups
1 tbs Madras curry powder
3-4 tbs clarified butter or ghee (directions on clarifying butter are here)
1 tsp brown sugar
salt & freshly gound black pepper
1 small sprig fresh thyme, leaves removed and chopped
1/4 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves, washed and chopped
thinly sliced scallion, for garnish
Directions: Sauté the onion and thyme in 2 tbs butter in a large soup pot over medium-high heat, stirring to prevent burning or sticking. After 5 minutes or so, reduce heat to medium and continue cooking, about 10-15 more minutes, until onion is soft and translucent.
Add the potatoes, stock, and sugar, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer until the potatoes are tender (this will vary depending on the potato variety and the size of your dice; begin checking after 15 minutes).
Meanwhile, heat the remaining clarified butter in the smallest saucepan you have. When it is melted, turn the heat to medium low and add the curry powder, stirring well. Cook 2-3 minutes or until fragrant, taking care that the curry powder does not burn- it will become bitter.
When potatoes are cooked through, turn off the heat and stir in the coconut milk, 2 tbs of the cilantro, and the curry butter (use a spatula and swish a little stock in the curry butter pan to get it all out). If you have an immersion blender, use that to partially purée the soup- you’re aiming for it to be about 50% puréed, with bites of potato remaining. Otherwise, purée half the soup in your blender or food processor and return it to the pot.
Put the soup back on the stove on medium heat and add the corn. If you’re using frozen corn, cook long enough to heat the corn through; if you’re using fresh, simmer for about 10 minutes and taste to make sure the corn has lost any raw flavor. Add salt and freshly ground black or white pepper to taste, as well as a pinch more sugar if you think it needs it. Garnish each bowl with a generous sprinkle of the remaining chopped cilantro and a few slivers of scallion.
I’ve never thought of the 70′s as a particularly shining moment in our nation’s culinary history. What comes to mind is usually either canned-soup-based casseroles, or at the other end of the spectrum, austere and flavorless “health food”. But one of the things that stands out from the health food craze are those rice or grain-based salads that incorporate veggies, herbs, and some sort of vegetarian protein (nuts/ tofu/ tempeh) into a one-dish meal. With the right ingredients and spices, these can be fresh and flavorful, and they’re really convenient and economical. As much as I love making a decadent French meal, I also enjoy balancing it out with stuff like this.
On the weekends, I try to make some sort of big dish of food that I can take in my lunch or eat as a quick dinner on nights I have rehearsal and don’t have time to cook. Marvin has expressed interest in eating healthier too, so I decided to make a big batch of brown rice salad for us to eat this week. The Moosewood Restaurant Daily Special cookbook has a lot of good recipes in the “grain salad” department, but in my New Year’s effort to make more use of my neglected cookbooks, I found inspiration for this particular salad in a book called “The Way We Cook” by Sheryl Julian & Julie Riven. I made a few small modifications and got a good result- so good, in fact, that I had to persuade Marvin not to eat his share all in one sitting, and save some for the next day’s lunch as planned!
1 1/2 cups brown rice (I actually used a red rice called Wehani that I got at the Natural Food Patch), or substitute kamut (see notes)
1 8-oz brick unseasoned tempeh
1 red bell pepper (see notes)
1 1/2-2 cups grated carrots (about 3 or 4 large carrots)
3-4 scallions, green and white parts, thinly sliced (see notes)
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup unsalted cashews
2 tbs ginger, finely minced
2 tbs soy sauce
3 tbs rice vinegar
3 tbs peanut or canola oil
1 tbs plus 1/2 tsp curry powder
1/3 cup chopped parsley, cilantro, or a combination
-If you want to keep this dish on the economical side, feel free to omit the red bell pepper if it’s not in season. If you don’t have scallions, substitute some finely chopped red onion.
-For the grain, you could substitute kamut in this salad- if you’re unfamiliar, it’s a chewy, nutty grain that looks like brown rice and is somewhat similar to wheatberries in texture.
-For the protein, if you want to omit the tempeh, increase the amount of cashews to perhaps 2/3 cup. If you are using the tempeh, feel free to omit the cashews, since the tempeh does have a nutty flavor and texture. However, I do like it with both.
Directions: Prepare rice or kamut according to package directions, adding 1/2 tsp. of salt to the cooking water. You may want to use slightly less water than indicated- I used the full amount (a 2:1 ratio of water to rice) and my rice was a little wet/ overcooked.
While your rice is cooking, mince the ginger, chop the pepper, scallions and herbs, and grate the carrot. Cut the tempeh into small bite-sized cubes. Toast the cashews in a dry non-stick skillet over low heat, taking care that they don’t burn. When they are golden brown, remove from heat and let cool. Heat 2 tbs oil in the skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the curry powder, raisins, and ginger. Cook for a minute or two to bloom the flavors. Remove mixture to a small bowl. Using the same pan (you don’t have to wash it), heat another tbs oil and the 1/2 tsp curry powder. Fry the tempeh, adding 1 tbs soy sauce and stirring well. Cook for 2-3 minutes to allow the tempeh to absorb the seasoning.
When your rice is done, stir in the curry-raisin mixture, the tempeh, and the rice vinegar.
(You can do the above steps ahead of time, if desired, and add the vegetables later. The cookbook I used recommended letting the salad “rest” in the fridge overnight to mellow the flavors. I would recommend at least letting the rice cool to lukewarm/room temp before adding the vegetables and herbs, so they don’t get mushy or wilty.)
Before serving, stir in the cashews, carrots, peppers, scallions and herbs. Taste for seasoning and add additional rice vinegar and/or the other 1 tbs soy sauce if needed. Serve only slightly chilled or at room temperature for best flavor.