Friday, July 25, 2008
Okay, I was only kidding about the dreaming, but I do crave it all too often.
Maharashtrians make a super-delicious and more complex version of vangi bhat (that recipe incorporates more spices and peanuts) but on a weeknight I find it quicker to put together the one that I learned out of a Tamil cookbook eons ago and which instantly became a favorite.
This is my second eggplant recipe in just over a week but, as all of you cooks know, it is eggplant season out there. My vegetable patch is festooned with tiny little eggplants that I cannot wait to devour. And this week, my local farmer's market was overflowing with eggplants of many colors and sizes- white eggplants, green Thai eggplants, skinny lilac eggplants, and many more. Since I could eat this delicious veggie any day of the week and any time of the day, I came home with armfuls of it.
For this recipe, I used a small, skinny eggplant that was pale purple streaked with white. Both the woman who sold it to me and I had no idea what the variety is called, but the usual small, egg-shaped Indian eggplants or even the bigger varieties would do perfectly well in this dish. You might have to vary the cooking time for the eggplant to ensure it is cooked through. Remember, an undercooked eggplant is worse than no eggplant at all.
So here you go with a traditional recipe for a classic dish that everyone must try one time or the other in their eggplant cooking career. Enjoy!
Vangi Bhat (Eggplant Rice)
1 cup cooked, long-grain white rice like Basmati. You could try this with brown Basmati- I am sure the robust flavors of the spices would hold their own against the earthy nuttiness of the brown rice.
6 small eggplants, or 1/2 of a large one, diced into small, even-sized pieces, around 1-cm square
1/2 tsp turmeric (optional)
1 tbsp + 1 tsp canola or other vegetable oil (not olive)
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 sprig curry leaves
Salt to taste
In a skillet, heat 1 tsp of of canola or other vegetable oil and toast until pale golden-brown and aromatic:
1 1/2 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp bengal gram dal (chana dal)
1 tbsp black gram dal (udad dal)
2 red chilies.
Grind with a little water into a fairly smooth paste.
Heat the remaining 1 tbsp of oil in a large skillet.
Add the mustard seeds and, when they sputter, add the curry leaves
Over medium heat, add the eggplant pieces and a little salt and toss around to coat with oil. Let the eggplant cook, stirring a few times, until it is tender and cooked through. Depending on the variety of eggplant, this should take between 10-15 minutes.
Add the ground spices and turmeric, if using, and mix thoroughly with the eggplant. Allow them to cook together for a couple of minutes so the flavors merge.
Add the cooked rice and mix together delicately, taking care not to mash the rice grains which should be separate. Turn off heat.
Garnish with fresh mint or chopped coriander, or even with some fresh grated coconut if you have some on hand.
I served this hot with some freshly fried vatrals (rice-and-lentil crisps) that my sis-in-law, Paddu, gave me on her recent visit. Bliss.
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
When I do get a chance, though, usually on weekends, I can't wait to get some warm, homemade bread going. This past weekend, I decided to try out a recipe I saw a while ago on one of my favorite blogs, One Hot Stove, and which I had been pining to make ever since: Laadi Pav.
Growing up in Bombay, I have great memories of buying fresh laadi pav from the bakery. In Goa, where my Dad now lives, the pav-wallah still comes around every morning tooting his bicycle horn, a large basket of fresh, warm pav balanced on the back. There's nothing more delightful than tearing into a piece of this amazing bread and dipping it into a warm, spicy curry.
Nupur's Laadi Pav tasted great, had a beautiful, flaky texture, and what's more, it called for just two rather than the three rises that many breads need, so even though I started only in the afternoon, it was ready well in time for dinner.
I followed Nupur's directions to the letter, except that I used transfat-free shortening in place of the tiny amount of butter that the recipe called for.
I thought this simple recipe would be a great one to send to the MBP Less is More event being hosted this month by, well, Nupur!
Thanks very much, Nupur, for an amazing treat.
Monday, July 21, 2008
Tempeh, which has a chewy texure, is a perfect substitute for crabmeat. It is also protein-rich and really good for you.
One of the ways in which I add a seafood flavor to my vegan "crabcakes" is by using Old Bay seasoning which is completely vegan and which gives the recipe just that bit of a kick that lifts it above the ordinary. You can leave it out if you prefer. I sometimes snip any seaweed I have on hand into the "crabcake" batter, which further adds an authentic seafood flavor, but I didn't have any this time so I went without. They still turned out delicious.
I also used vegan "mayonnaise" which is made with canola oil and makes a great and healthier substitute for regular mayo. Like Tempeh, it is pretty easy to find in natural food stores. I get mine from Whole Foods.
So here they are, my vegan "crabcakes": crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and totally delicious.
1 package tempeh (8 oz), grated fine or crumbled into small bits
2-4 tbsp vegan mayonnaise (use more if needed to ensure the batter holds together when formed into cakes)
1/2 medium onion, minced
1 tbsp grated ginger
2 tbsp coriander leaves, chopped
1/2 cup whole-wheat breadcrumbs
1 heaping tbsp Old Bay seasoning
1 tsp chili powder, like cayenne or paprika
1-2 tbsp oil for shallow-frying the "crabcakes"
Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl. The mixture should hold together when formed into a cake. If it doesn't, add some more breadcrumbs and mayonnaise. (Update: a couple of people who tried these said they had trouble getting the crabcakes to hold together. I'd advise pulsing a few times in a food processor. Also these are delicate so don't make them too big. Mine were just over an inch in diameter. Be gentle when you flip them over.)
In a non-stick or cast-iron skillet, heat the oil
Take about a 1-inch ball of the batter and flatten it slightly.
Place as many cakes as possible into the skillet without overcrowding them. If you put too many in, they will steam and turn soggy instead of getting that beautiful golden-brown crust.
Turn after 1-2 minutes, once the underside is thoroughly browned. Cook the other side.
Serve hot, either by themselves or in a chapati or tortilla wrap smeared with some more mayonnaise. You can also add tomatoes or other veggies like cucumber or lettuce.
This recipe goes to Mansi's Healthy Cooking event.
Friday, July 18, 2008
Now I'm not a great gardener, but I love it anyway. Every summer I try my hand, with help from Desi, at growing at least a few vegetables and herbs. In recent years I've planted, and reaped, tomatoes, eggplants, okra, beets, zucchini, cabbage, broccoli, basil, mint, thyme, rosemary, sage and a few other goodies. Some were half-eaten by bugs before I could get to them, but I had good luck with most.
This year, I planted a cucumber vine because I'd heard it's one of the easiest garden veggies to grow, and before I knew it, it threatened to take over the entire vegetable garden. I've already harvested quite a few cucumbers. I had two on hand yesterday and was a little tired of eating them in raw salads. But I had never cooked a cucumber subzi before.
Roshani, a fellow DC blogger, suggested a classic Gujarati recipe that her mom, Pratima Kothari, makes. I modified it slightly, adding some curry leaves at the beginning and some mint at the end, as well as a sprinkling of coconut.
I loved this dish. The cucumber did not break down into a mush as I had expected, but held its shape beautifully. I cooked it until it was just tender. The mint (cucumber and mint do sound so right together, don't they?) added a wonderfully fresh flavor.
This is one recipe I will be making all summer long. Thanks, Roshani!
2 medium-sized cucumbers, cut into a small dice
1 tbsp canola oil
1 sprig curry leaves, separated
1 tsp mustard seeds
2 green chilies like serrano, slit down the middle
1/4 tsp turmeric (optional)
Salt to taste
3 tbsp mint, cut into shreds
2 tbsp coconut shreds
Heat the oil.
Add the mustard seeds and when they sputter, add the curry leaves and green chilies
Within seconds, add the turmeric and then the cucumber pieces. Stir well to coat thoroughly with the oil.
Allow the cucumber to cook for about 15-20 minutes over a medium flame, stirring occasionally.
Once the cucumber is tender, add more salt if needed and turn off the heat.
Sprinkle with the fresh mint and coconut.
You will find me working on my blogroll the next few days: something I've been intending to do for months now. I hope to add each one of you wonderful bloggers out there that I have come to know these past few months, and the more the merrier. In case you don't see your site listed in a few days, please don't be offended because it is not intentional. Just drop me a note and I will take care of it pronto.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
Even so, if there was one that I had to pick over all others - you know, the only vegetable left on earth and so on- it would be, hands down, the eggplant.
I know there are people out there who find the eggplant detestable, like Gabriel Garcia Marquez's lovely but demented (in my opinion) heroine Fermina Daza who would rather sacrifice love than eat this veggie. The most common mistake that leads to the undeserved labeling of the eggplant as abominable is undercooking it. Undercooked eggplant is bitter and has a chewy (not in a good way) texture that no one in their right minds would enjoy.
But treat the eggplant right, and it will reward you with a sweet creaminess that's other-worldly and beyond gorgeous.
What's better, there are so many varieties of eggplant out there, from the small, egg-shaped ones to the slender Italian versions to the huge, globular one most commonly available in supermarkets. Then there are white eggplants, little green-and-white ones, and the pale lilac ones. Each of these varieties differ in taste and texture. All, without exception, are delicious.
Today, I want to share with you one of most favorite eggplant treats- Bharleli Vangi, or, translated from Marathi, Stuffed Eggplant.
Now Bharleli Vangi is traditionally prepared with the small, globe-like purple eggplants that are abundantly available in India and can be found at Indian groceries here. Those are the size easiest to stuff and serve, and believe me, they are delicious. But as my luck should have it, I rarely find decently fresh baby eggplants at my local Indian grocery store.
This past week, I found these beauties at my neighborhood Whole Foods. I have no idea what they are called, but you can see for yourselves: they are about four inches long and about two-and-a-half inches in diameter.
They were also shiny and purple and fresh. I picked up three and brought them home, hoping to come up with an extra-special recipe that would do them justice. My mind kept running to Bharleli Vangi, despite the fact that this was just not the right variety of eggplant for this dish.
Finally, I caved in, and was glad I did. The result was wonderful. The eggplant, cooked over slow heat, turned out incredibly tender and delicious. I cooked the stuffed eggplants over a bed of potatoes, because eggplant and potatoes are a match made in tastebud heaven and because the potatoes caramelize beautifully with the juices from the eggplant.
So here it is, my recipe for Bharleli Vangi, a classic Maharashtrian dish that I absolutely love and adore. This dish is perfect served with some plain dal, like a varan, or with soft chapatis.
3 eggplants (about 4 inches in length) or 6 small, egg-shaped ones. Wash and dry the eggplants and then, with a sharp knife, make three deep cuts all the way across the diameter of the eggplant and almost, but not quite, all the way down to the stem end.
Remember, it is important that the slices do not separate because you want to stuff the eggplants.
2 yellow potatoes, cut into long, thin strips (as for French fries).
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 tbsp canola oil
1 tsp sugar
For the stuffing:
1/4 cup coconut shreds
2 tbsp jaggery
3 tbsp peanuts, lightly toasted
1 tsp coriander, 1 tsp sesame seeds and 1 tsp black peppercorns, lightly toasted and powdered
2 green chilies
3 tsp chopped coriander leaves
Salt to taste
Put all the ingredients for the stuffing into a food processor and process, adding about 1 tbsp of oil if needed, into a coarse powder.
Divide the stuffing into three (or six if using smaller eggplants) portions, and stuff between the petals of each eggplant. Be gentle. You don't want to break the eggplant.
In a skillet, heat the oil. Add the onions and saute for two minutes until translucent. Add the sugar and some salt to taste.
Add the potatoes and stir fry for another two minutes until they begin to tenderize.
Now place the stuffed eggplants gently on the bed of potatoes. Cover with a tight-fitting lid.
Let the eggplants cook on slow heat for about 30 minutes. Stir gently a couple of times so the potatoes don't burn and turn the eggplants a few times (tongs work best for this) to ensure they cook evenly.
Pierce the end just above the stem with a fork or skewer to check doneness. If it goes through without any effort, take it off the fire.
Garnish, if desired, with fresh cilantro or mint.
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
This curry is creamy, tangy, sweet, spicy and absolutely delicious. What's better, it is a quick - and easy - recipe that almost no one can go wrong with. Want more proof of just how good it is? It's versatile, and goes equally well with chapatis or rotis or even mixed with rice.
I used potatoes and peas for this version, but I am guessing that mushroom would be a great addition or substitution, if that's what you happen to have on hand, and if you don't care much for potatoes (although that's hard to imagine!)
I added basil to this curry at the very end instead of cilantro, which I usually add, and the result was spectacular. The basil gave the curry a sweet-spicy kick that I loved and that made the dish just that much more special. But if you prefer, you could use cilantro or even mint.
So here we go, with a quick and simple recipe for a hearty weeknight dinner. Enjoy!
Creamy Peas-Potato Curry
15-20 cashews, soaked in water for about 15 minutes, then drained
3 yellow potatoes, scrubbed and diced into 1 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup green peas (I used frozen)
1/2 cup tomato puree
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp turmeric (optional)
1/2 tsp amchur or mango powder (available in Indian groceries)
1 14-oz can of light coconut milk
1 tbsp canola oil
Salt to taste
8-10 basil leaves, chopped
Heat canola oil in a saucepan.
Add the cashews and potatoes and stir fry until golden
Add the peas and stir until the vegetables are tender
Add the tomato puree, and powdered spices.
Cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomato puree is cooked and begins to express the oil.
Add the coconut milk and salt to taste.
Turn off the heat before the coconut milk comes to a boil. Garnish with basil and serve hot.
I am sending this curry to the Curry Mela hosted by Srivalli of Cooking 4 All Seasons.
Tuesday, July 08, 2008
While busy like this or on the road, one of the things I really miss is cooking and eating. There is nothing like the food sold or served at conferences to make you long for a hearty, homecooked meal.
Last week, my wonderful neighbor, Heather, handed me an armful of fresh basil leaves that she had just harvested from her garden. I love basil and I try to grow some every year, but somehow my plants are never as healthy as Heather's who has that enviable green thumb.
Thrilled beyond bits, I ran home and pulled out my food processor to mix up a batch of pesto with those fragrant leaves when, woe be, I realized I had no extra virgin olive oil on hand.
I had to wait a whole agonizing day before I could find the time to make a trip to the grocery store. The basil smelled like heaven, and so did the pesto. I added a half of a habanero pepper to it, which sounds unusual, but believe me, it really punched up the spice factor.
I also used mild miso as a cheese substitute. Miso, as I've written before, has wonderful health qualities and its texture, and salty taste, work beautifully as a proxy for parmesan which is usually a staple in pesto recipes. Trust me, you won't be able to tell the difference.
So here it is: pesto minus the cheese. I try to keep a batch in the refrigerator most of the time and use it as a quick sauce for pasta or even as a spread for a slice of crunchy toast.
About 3 cups of packed basil leaves
1/3 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 a green habanero pepper
3 tbsp mild-tasting miso
About 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil or more if you like your pesto runny
In a food processor, combine all the ingredients except the olive oil.
With the motor running, drizzle in the olive oil until the pesto is a granular paste with all the ingredients broken down.
And you're done!