This past year's been a rocky road for Holy Cow! She turned three in November, which seemed like a pretty big milestone considering I have rarely stuck to any one project for that long. But there were obstacles that kept me from giving her as much attention as I should have-- I was juggling a new job, the long and arduous road to recovery that followed Lucy's diagnosis with osteosarcoma, Freddie's slow decline as he struggles with cancer, and two repeated mishaps with the camera that made it impossible to post, along with about two dozen other things.
But for those of you who've missed seeing me online, I have good news: I am going to be around much more-- perhaps more than you'd like-- in 2011. Because I've missed you even more.
So here I am, with the final post of 2010-- a creamy, delicious, almost incredibly exquisite curry made with an ingredient that may not be familiar to some of you: lotus seeds, or phool makhana.
Lotus seeds are a wonderful treat and you can buy them at any Indian grocery store here in the United States. When I started to cook with them, I discovered they make a wonderful meat substitute. The seeds, dalmatian-like with a creamy color mottled with black specks, are puffy and light. You would usually cook them by frying or roasting them first in a little oil which makes them rather crispy and delicious and subtly flavorful-- almost a wonderful snack in their own right. But an even more delicious treat is to dunk them in a spicy curry which changes their texture to slightly chewy.
I use a paste of cashews to make the makhana curry creamy, but coconut milk would work too although, of course, it would alter the flavor.
This is a great recipe for winter-- it's healthy but you practically don't need any fresh ingredients. Even the peas are frozen, and everything else came from the pantry.
For those of you who were expecting my vegan custard tart post, sorry, but I am going to undertake that project only after Desi gets his camera back from the repair shop-- heaven knows why it's taking them that long! The pictures for today's post were taken on my phone which, although not a great substitute for the real thing, makes a pretty decent picture, especially in the very talented Desi's hands.
Do keep reading after the recipe for five tips from my kitchen to make 2011 a great year, cooking-wise.
Creamy Phool Makhana Curry
2 cups phool makhana or lotus seeds (they keep in the pantry forever-- I am not even sure which year I bought mine, and they're still great)
1 cup green peas
1 medium onion, chopped
3 tsp vegetable oil, like canola
5 cloves of garlic, smashed or minced very fine
2 tsp ginger paste
1 tbsp coriander powder
1 tsp garam masala
1/2 to 1 tsp red chilli powder, like paprika or, if you've more adventurous tastebuds, cayenne
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 cup tomato puree
1/4 cup kasoori methi (dried fenugreek leaves-- pick them up when you shop for the lotus seeds at the Indian grocery store)
1/3 cup of cashews
Salt to taste
1/4 cup chopped coriander leaves
Heat 1 tsp of the oil in a cast-iron or nonstick skillet and add the lotus seeds. Stir-fry them, stirring constantly, until they turn golden-brown and crisp. You don't want them to blacken.
Put the lotus seeds in a bowl and set aside.
Make a paste with the cashews and 1 cup of water and set aside.
Heat the remaining oil in a skillet (if you used a cast-iron one to roast the lotus seeds, replace it with a nonstick or stainless steel one for the rest of the recipe. You're using tomato in the recipe and acidic ingredients don't react happily to cast iron).
Add the onion and saute over medium heat until it turns transparent, about 5 minutes.
Add the ginger and garlic and saute for a few seconds.
Add the powdered spices and saute another 30 seconds.
Add the tomato puree and mix thoroughly. Cook, stirring frequently, until the tomatoes darken and the oil begins to express itself.
Add the lotus seeds, the frozen green peas, and the kasoori methi. Give it all a good stir and a cup of water.
Once the curry comes to a boil, add the cashew paste and salt to taste. If the curry is too thick, add some water. I like my curry rather thick-- perfect to scoop up with an oven-fresh naan.
Spritz in a few drops of lemon juice for some added complexity. Garnish with chopped coriander.
Amrita of Vegan India!, a wonderful resource for vegans and aspiring vegans in India (may their tribe increase) wrote this lovely article about Holy Cow! A big thank you, Amrita!
And finally my New Year's gift to you: some tips from the kitchen that make cooking-- and eating-- more fun and healthy in my home, and less of a chore.
1. Make cooking fun, not a project. There are no hard and fast rules when you cook in your kitchen, and there never should be any. Experiment to your heart's content, unless you're a newbie cook and would do well to learn before you innovate. And if you are a newbie cook afraid to dabble, this is the year to get started. Cooking is one of the most creative endeavors you can ever launch on, and the most rewarding, because who doesn't appreciate good food? Don't ever let the fear that something will turn out badly hold you back. And trust me, no matter how rough your start, you will get better with practice.
2. Cook with love and pride. Which also means don't take dumb shortcuts. If something is worth cooking, or someone is worth cooking for, give it a 100 percent effort. I once knew a woman who, the day before she was to contribute a kheer (an Indian pudding) to a community festival found out that she hadn't cooked enough. Her solution? She took the container to the sink, turned on the faucet, and voila! More kheer. That's a true story and I for one was glad I wasn't at that festival the next day.
3. Cook globally. Time was when women cooked the recipes their mothers and grandmothers handed down to them. But today you can use your culinary skills to transport yourself to new places and new cultures as only books or actual travel can. No matter where you live, it is possible to find all sorts of exotic ingredients in supermarkets and ethnic grocery stores. What's stopping you?
4. Respect and contemplate the food you eat. Food does not arrive magically in a supermarket, all wrapped up and bagged. There are tons of processes and politics behind food that severely impact human beings and animals around the globe who are far less privileged than we are. Being aware of what these are can make you not just a smarter consumer but also a healthier as well as more compassionate one.
5. Dare to eat animal-free foods. Think of this: 2010 was the year that vegan cupcakes conquered the Cupcake Wars on the Food Network and the year that Bill Clinton, once an affirmed carnivore (who can forget his famous midnight fast-food binges when he was in the White House?) went on air to swear about the benefits of his new plant-based diet and how it had transformed his health. How much more evidence do we need that plant-based diets are healthy and delicious too?
A very happy 2011, all! May every creature -- furry, winged, human and crawly-- find compassion and peace and joy on our beautiful Earth.