Category: Indian

Back with a Winner

November 13, 2013

Hello friends. How do I explain an over month-long absence? It would be easier if I had some good excuse as to why I’ve been gone. A long trip maybe or a super exciting professional assignment. I can’t boast either. I can’t hide behind illness or family troubles because, truthfully, everything is going swimmingly. It turns out that writing is like exercise for me. Either I’m in it, doing the work on an almost daily basis and it feels natural, or I’m out. I never meant to be out and I apologize that so much time has passed since my last post and this one. My own brother called me a slacker.

Here is a reason that I believe I will never have an over month-long absence for this space again. We moved around our guest bedroom and study. My writing space was once downstairs and is now on the main floor, just a few steps from the kitchen. I know it’s silly that a few stairs kept me from writing but, after living with things the old way for a year, it seemed time to make a change. Also, our new guest digs are bigger, brighter, and more private. A win win for everyone.

So I’m returning with a favorite. I have always loved making Indian food, never more than once I got my hands on two very special cookbooks from a favorite restaurant in London. (Amazon carries at least one of them.) I turn to them over and over again, their pages splattered and slightly coming away from the spine of the books. When an Indian food craving hits, I almost always make this dish alongside some rice (Peas Pilau Rice from one of the books is particularly good) and some other delicious offering, most often starring potatoes and/or chickpeas. Raita and some kind of chutney round out the meal. What makes this dish special is that it is mild, a bit tangy, but still with plenty of spices and the haunting and unique flavor of fresh curry leaves. It’s mildness and creaminess is most welcome on a table of spicy things. I love a dish that can taste so good with a slight richness and that is also so good for you.

Curry leaves are an ingredient that can be hard to find but they do add an unmistakable and hard-to-put-your finger on flavor here. I was able to find them at Uwajimaya in Seattle and I have found them in Berkeley Bowl and Monterey Market here in the East Bay. If you have an Asian market or other ethnic store near you, chances are you can find them. They keep for a long time so buy extra because you’ll want to make this dish again. If you can’t find them, make the dish anyway. In addition to being tasty and tangy, it’s healthy with tons of spinach and the creaminess comes from plain yogurt. Sorry for being away for so long.

One Year Ago:  Salted Caramel Ice Cream and Malted Vanilla Milkshakes (and another apology)
Two Years Ago:  Bulghur Salad Stuffed Peppers, Stilton Tart with Cranberry Chutney (Thanksgiving appetizer anyone?)
Three Years Ago:  Romaine Leaves with Caesar Dressing and a Big Crouton, Roasted Mushrooms and Shallots
Four Years Ago:  Holly B’s Gingersnaps, Gianjuja Mousse
Five Years Ago:  Bulghur and Green Lentils with Chickpeas, Pumpkin Whoopie Pies

Cheera Thayir Curry

Adapted from The New Tastes of India
Serves 4

Vegetable, canola, or coconut oil
2 tsp. mustard seeds
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 dried red chilies
10 curry leaves
Pinch of fenugreek (optional)
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 large tomatoes, seeded, finely chopped
3 jalapeno peppers, seeds and membranes removed for less heat, chopped
2 tbsp. peeled fresh ginger, minced or grated
1 tsp. tumeric
5 ounces baby spinach
1 cup plain yogurt (whole milk or 2%, do not use non-fat)
Kosher or sea salt

Place a large saucepan over medium heat and have a lid ready.  Pour in just enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan and then add the mustard seeds.  After a couple of moments they will start to pop.  Immediately add the garlic, dried red chilies, curry leaves, and fenugreek.  If the popping gets out of hand, just cover the pot with the lid until it calms down.  Cook, stirring frequently, for 2 minutes, then add the onion, green chilies, ginger, and a large pinch of salt.

Cook until the onion is starting to turn brown, about 8 minutes.  Add the tomatoes, tumeric, and another pinch of salt.  Mix thoroughly, then add the spinach and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove the pan from the heat.  Gradually add the yogurt, stirring slowly and continuously.  Return the pan to low heat and for another couple of minutes just to bring all the flavors together.  Serve warm.

Indian Food Pep Talk

May 6, 2013

Let’s talk about Indian food.  Do you love it?  Are you making it at home?  If the answer to the first question is yes and the second is no, why not?  Why are you not making Indian food at home?  I’m guessing it is one of these reasons:

1) The recipes are too long.
2) The recipes have unfamiliar ingredients.
3) It’s too spicy!
4) Who has all those spices?

You might notice that reasons 1-4 actually have to do with spices.  #1 Sometimes Indian food recipes have long lists of ingredients but if you look carefully, many of those ingredients are actually spices.  Sometimes up to half of the list really just needs to be measured out of a jar.  #2 Once in a while, I will find a recipe that calls for bitter gourd or drumstick (not the kind that is on a chicken) but usually the unfamiliar ingredients are actually spices.  #3 “Spicy” and “spiced” are really too different things.  Yes, there are a lot of spices in Indian cooking and that is why it is so intoxicating.  Most of the spices are there to give the food flavor and color, not necessarily heat.  When you are cooking it yourself, you control the level of heat so what are you afraid of?  #4 needs a new paragraph.

If you cook regularly, you probably have jars of cumin, coriander, and cayenne at home, these are spices commonly used in Indian food but also in Thai, Mexican, and Middle Eastern food, among others.  Perhaps you even have turmeric and mustard seeds.  Maybe you don’t.  Maybe you want to make a recipe that calls for fenugreek and garam masala and when you see that you think to yourself, “Now this is why I don’t make Indian food.”  I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to go buy whole jars of things that you are not going to use on a daily basis.  Most grocery stores these days have a bulk spice section where you can buy a couple of teaspoons for less than a dollar.  An added bonus is that the bulk spices tend to be much fresher than those you get in a  jar because there is a lot of turnover.  Take a tip from me and clearly write on the bag which spice it is and then store all your little bits of spices in one Ziploc bag.  That way, you can pull out that one bag when you want to make Indian food.  If you are looking for online resources for spices, I can highly recommend World Spice Merchant and Penzey’s.  World Spice Merchant has a storefront in Seattle and Penzey’s has locations all over the U. S.

Now that we are not afraid anymore, can we continue?  I make Indian food often in my kitchen.  I was never a fan of the Indian restaurants in Seattle so when I craved it, I made it myself.  I turn to several trusted cookbooks over and over and although I am a person always wanting to try new recipes, I gravitate toward the same dishes.  They are that good.

This Cauliflower and Potato Curry is a great place to start if you are apprehensive about cooking Indian food.  The recipe is easy, the ingredient list relatively short, ingredients are familiar, and it is not spicy (as in hot).  I have probably made this recipe 30 times and I change up little things each time.  Sometimes I use big tomatoes that I seed, sometimes I use cherry tomatoes, sometimes I use canned tomatoes.  I have made it with more cauliflower and fewer potatoes, and also with more potatoes and less cauliflower.  I’ve added frozen peas on more than one occasion.  I’ve used all coconut milk and also half coconut milk and half water.  I have made it soupier and drier.  My point is this is a very adaptable recipe.  How you see it below is how I like it best.

One Year Ago:  Flan, Layered Pasilla Tortilla Casserole
Two Years Ago:  Cheddar Crackers (I’ve made these about 1,000 times), Kaye Korma Curry
Three Years Ago:  Gianduja Gelato, Orange Grand Marnier Cake, Spaghetti with Mushrooms, Asparagus, and Tarragon
Four Years Ago:  Mexican Brownies, Noodles in Thai Curry Sauce with Tofu,

Cauliflower and Potato Curry
Adapted from The New Tastes of India
Serves 4

Coconut oil (or canola or peanut oil)
1 ½ tsp. fennel seeds
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 tsp. turmeric powder
1 tsp. chile powder
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1 ¼ pound new potatoes (assorted colors are nice), cut into large chunks
1 small cauliflower, about 1 ¼ pounds, broken into florets
4 plum tomatoes, quartered and seeded
4 ounces coconut milk
4 ounces water
Kosher or sea salt
Handful of chopped cilantro

Heat a Dutch oven over medium heat.  Add just enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan.  Sprinkle in the fennel seeds and allow them to cook, stirring often, until they are toasted and fragrant, about 3 minutes.  Add the onion and cook until the onion is turning brown, about 10 minutes.  Add the turmeric and chile powder and stir for 2 minutes.  Stir in the tomato paste.

Add the potato, cauliflower, tomatoes, coconut milk, and another healthy pinch of salt.  Next stir in the water.  Bring the mixture up to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer and cover the pot.  Allow to cook at a brisk simmer until the potatoes and cauliflower are tender, about 20 minutes.  Be sure to check with a fork or a paring knife.  If the mixture needs more liquid in your opinion, add more water or coconut milk.  Just before serving, taste for salt, and stir in the cilantro.

Spice Crispies

January 27, 2012

Sometimes when I am at my cooking maximum, I somehow find the energy to add one more thing.  I’m tapped, I’m tired, I’m starting to make stupid mistakes, and then I see something that sparks me – makes me perk up.  I somehow find time to squeeze in this one more thing even though that bit of time could be of more value in other ways.  And sometimes there is pay off, even though it may not seem that way at first.

What am I talking about?  Well, this has been quite a week for me and it’s not over yet.  I taught classes Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and today I will be spending the entire day in the kitchen prepping lunch for tomorrow’s yoga retreat on Bainbridge Island.  Everything has to be done today because I take a 7:55am ferry over there tomorrow.  Normally, I spend a couple of days prepping but because of all the teaching, everything will be compressed into one day.  Did I mention that my husband has been out of town?  Yes, that too.  I’m getting through by literally taking one day at a time.  I can’t even think about the next project until I finish the current one.  Nothing that can’t be used that very day gets made or done.  Stay Focused Dana has been my mantra.

So yesterday, precisely 40 minutes before I had to leave to pick up my children, precisely 2 hours before my students started knocking on my door, with precisely 57 different dishes in the sink or scattered around the counter, I decided to make Spice Crispies.  The recipe caught my eye as I was making my favorite Chex Mix and suddenly, I was overtaken with the urge to create yet more dirty dishes and food.

Fast as lightning, I preheated the oven, gathered ingredients, poured, sautéed, stirred, scraped, baked, washed, wiped, and as I was cursing myself because now I was even more behind than I had been before, a most amazing smell started wafting from my oven.  I pulled the tray out, whisked it off to the dining room for a quick photo in the fading light, and took a taste.  Weird.  Interesting.  Not sure.  Waste of time?  Maybe.  And then off to finish out my evening, the Spice Crispies all but forgotten.

After the class and after the clean-up was over, I remembered that I had stashed the tray in our study and a miraculous thing happened while they cooled completely and set up.  These little clusters of cereal and spice had become something totally addictive and truly tasty.  Even the raisins, which had become hard little nuggets, kind of like what happens to them in oatmeal raisin cookies, had their own unique appeal.  I have a feeling that I am going to get a lot of questions about this little snack mix this weekend – it is intriguing.  I wish I had the time to come up with beautiful metaphors describing the unusual yet delicious flavors in this snack, but I have a task list a mile long for today.  Just trust me when I say that I really should be doing 100 other things rather than writing this post and yet, here I am doing just that.  Have a great weekend.

One Year AgoRoasted Tomato Salad with Croutons, Meyer Lemon Risotto Cakes
Two Years Ago:  Chickpea, Chard, and Couscous Soup, Soba Noodles with Crispy Tofu and Vegetables
Three Years Ago:  Orange Pound Cake

Spice Crispies
Adapted from Food & Wine
Makes about 4 cups

If you want to keep the raisins from getting totally crunchy, I imagine you could add them half way through the baking time. 

2 cups Rice Krispies or other puffed rice cereal (2 ounces)
¼ cup salted roasted cashews
¼ cup salted roasted peanuts
¼ cup wide coconut flakes
¼ cup raisins
3 tbsp. peanut oil
1 tsp. yellow mustard seeds (DT:  I used brown)
½ tsp. fennel seeds
½ tsp. cumin seeds
¼ tsp. crushed red pepper
4 large fresh bay leaves (DT:  I used dried)
3 tbsp. light corn syrup
Juice of half a lemon
½ tsp. kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 325ºF and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  In a large bowl, toss the rice cereal with the cashews, peanuts, coconut flakes, and raisins.

In a small saucepan, heat the oil until shimmering.  Add the mustard seeds and cook over moderately high heat until they begin to pop, about 1 minute.  Add the fennel and cumin seeds, crushed red pepper, and bay leaves and toast, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minutes.  Add the corn syrup, lemon juice, and salt and bring to a boil.  Drizzle the hot syrup over the cereal over the cereal and nuts and toss with a spoon until evenly coated.

Spread the mixture on the baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes, stirring once or twice, until the nuts are golden.  Let cool; discard the bay leaves.

(Can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days.)

Two Potato Vindaloo

January 11, 2012

At the ages of seven and almost five, my children often say funny things.  Long ago a friend recommended that I write down their cute little sayings, insisting that I wouldn’t remember.  It was one of those ideas that made perfect sense at the time and yet is something that I just never did.  And, although I thought I could rely on my very good memory, I don’t remember all the cute little things they have said over the years.  The only ones I remember are those I wrote down on this blog, captured either with my phone or the flip camera, or the ones I told so many times that they are burned into my memory.

Last night, Graham said, “I have a good idea. If people want to eat your yummy food, we could open a window in our house, just like Taco Time!”

And now for some clarification.  First of all, Taco Time is not Taco Bell.  It is a locally owned fast food-ish place where the emphasis is on fresh.  I haven’t eaten at Taco Bell since my early 20’s but I don’t mind Taco Time.  Second of all, I’m not a drive-thru kind of person but last summer our beloved babysitter took them through there and on to the park where they had a picnic.  They are still talking about it six months later.  Third of all, when Graham was the praises of my food, he was not talking about this Two Potato Vindaloo.  He was talking about a taco (sense a theme?) that I made him with black beans, cheese, homemade salsa and guacamole.

So no, we are not quite at the point where I feed my children Two Potato Vindaloo although I think that Graham, my hearty and relatively adventurous eater, would probably have liked it.  I have, oh, about one ton of leftovers in the refrigerator so maybe we will give it a try tonight.  I know that Spencer would not touch it.  But I bet, if I opened a take-out window in my house (a friend on Facebook called it the Dana Treat Drive Thru), I would sell out of this dish.

This recipe comes from the beloved Plenty cookbook.  I swear this book has magic powers.  I feel like each time I open it, there are delicious things in there that I have never seen, never noticed.  This recipe, starring both red potatoes and sweet potatoes, I always notice and the only reason I haven’t made it until now is that I don’t always have fresh curry leaves on hand.  You could, of course, leave them out, but I dearly love curry leaves and just the scent of them as they hit the pan reminds of me the year we lived in London and all the amazing Indian food I ate there.

I made a few changes, streamlined the cooking time.  Ground spices instead of toasting whole ones and then grinding them.  Canned tomatoes instead of fresh (have you seen “fresh” tomatoes in Seattle these days?  Yuck.)  I have the British version of the book so I always tweak the recipes a bit with the measurements and all.  Having made so many delicious things from this book, I have learned to trust Mr. Ottolenghi’s taste.  I hesitated at the amount of vinegar in this dish but the acidity cut through the any heaviness that curries can sometimes have and also helped boost the flavor of the spices.  I’m telling you, that man is a genius.  The only other thing I can add is that, unless you are vegan, definitely add a dollop of plain yogurt to your bowl.  More acidity and some creaminess are most welcome in this curry.

One Year Ago:  Gingerbread with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting
Two Years Ago:  Black Bean Chilaquile
Three Years Ago:  Milk Chocolate Frosted Layer Cake

Two Potato Vindaloo
Adapted from Plenty
Serves 6-8

Unless you live near an Indian grocery, fresh curry leaves can be hard to find.  If you do use them, they are totally edible.  I like the way they taste but you can also pick them out like bay leaves.  I know some people substitute bay leaves for curry leaves (I haven’t tried it – the flavors are not the same), but if you do I would only use four of them and be sure to pick them out before serving.  Don’t worry if you don’t have fenugreek seeds – just leave them out.

½ tsp. ground cardamom
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground coriander
½ tsp. ground tumeric
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 tbsp. vegetable oil (I used coconut oil)
6 large shallots, peeled and finely chopped
½ tsp. mustard seeds
½ tsp. fenugreek seeds
Kosher salt
12 large or 24 small curry leaves
2 tbsp. finely chopped fresh ginger
1 fresh red chile, seeded and finely chopped
1 14-ouce can diced tomatoes
3 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
2 cups water
1 tbsp. sugar
1 pound red potatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 large red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 large sweet potato, cut into 1-inch chunks
Mint and/or cilantro to garnish

In a small bowl, combine all the spices except the mustard seeds and fenugreek seeds.  Set aside.

Place a large heavy based pot over medium heat.  Add the vegetable oil along with the shallots, mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, and a large pinch of salt.  Sauté for about 8 minutes, or until the shallots brown.  (You might want to have a lid handy in case the mustard seeds start to pop.)  Stir in the spice mix, curry leaves, ginger, and chile, and cook for a further 3 minutes.  Add the tomatoes (with their juice), vinegar, water, sugar, and another pinch of salt.  Bring to a boil, then leave to simmer, covered for 10 minutes.

Add the potatoes and red peppers and simmer for another 20 minutes.  For the last stage, add the sweet potatoes.  Make sure all the vegetables are just immersed in the sauce (add more water if needed) and continue cooking, covered, for about 20 more minutes, or until the potatoes are tender.

Remove the lid and leave to bubble away for about 10 minutes to reduce and thicken the sauce.  Serve hot with plain rice and garnished with herbs.  Serve yogurt for garnishing at the table.

Butternut Squash Curry

December 28, 2010

Confession.  I made this curry quite a while ago.  Like a few months ago.  Aside from the epic Christmas Eve meal last week and a casual dinner I will do for my in-laws this coming Thursday, I have not been making a lot of dinners.  We have had lots of parties and nights out alternated with lots of sickness.  I’ve been baking like crazy (I still have three coffee cakes I need to tell you about), but not much that is healthy or savory.

I haven’t mentioned this in a while, but I love Indian food.  And there really is no good Indian food in Seattle.  We never even try anymore because inevitably both of us get sick from the restaurants where we go.  I hear there are a couple of good spots across the lake, but after 6½ years of commuting across a bridge for work, Randy is not all that eager to head East for a night out.  Consequently, when we want Indian food, I make it.  I have a few cookbooks that I adore but for this meal, I decided to wing it.

I used fresh curry leaves in this dish which are not all that easy to find.  If you live in Seattle, sometimes Uwajimaya has them and otherwise, there is a tiny Indian grocer/VHS tape rental place on the Ave right near Ravenna.  He has very little fresh food, but has had curry leaves whenever I have asked for them.  They impart a difficult to describe flavor to this and all Indian dishes but do not fret if you can’t find them.  Just make it anyway.  Our month of gluttony is going to continue all the way to the last minutes of the 31st, but you can bet I’m making this again come January.  Tasty, healthy, easy.

Butternut Squash and Cashew Curry
Dana Treat Original
Serves 4

I served this dish with basmati rice and a flat bread that I made but didn’t like much.  If you are looking to make your own, I can highly recommend this recipe.

Vegetable oil
2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch pieces
Kosher salt
½ tsp. black mustard seeds
1 large red onion, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tbsp. finely grated fresh ginger
10 fresh curry leaves (optional)
2 small dried chiles (optional)
¾ cup unsalted roasted cashews
1 tsp. ground tumeric
½ tsp. ground cumin
1 14-ounce can lite coconut milk
½ cup water
12 ounces extra firm tofu, cut into 1-inch pieces
½ cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro, plus more for garnish
Juice of 1 lime

Place a large skillet over medium heat.  Add just enough vegetable oil to coat the bottom and then add the squash and a large pinch of salt.  Cook until golden, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.  Don’t worry if it sticks slightly to the pan, you will be able to scrape up those bits after you add the liquid.  Transfer the squash to a bowl and set aside.

Add a bit more oil to the skillet and then add the mustard seeds.  Once they start to pop, in about 1 minute, add the onions, garlic, ginger, chiles, and curry leaves.  Stir until the popping slows down.  Cook until the onions are golden, about 5 minutes.  Add the cashews, tumeric, and cumin; stir-fry 1 minute.  Add the coconut milk, tofu, and water and increase the heat to medium-high.  Boil until thickened, about 2 minutes.  Return the squash to the pan and reduce the heat to medium.  Simmer until the squash is very tender, about 4 minutes.  Stir in the cilantro and lime juice.  Taste for seasoning, adding more salt if necessary.

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