Saturday, December 19, 2009

Easy Roasted Eggplant - Baingan ka Bhurta (hara masala)

This is a simpler version of this dish. It is healthier and requires minimal oil and cooking. The recipe is as follows:

3 medium eggplants
4 scallions, finely chopped
5 sprigs cilantro, finely chopped
2 green chillies, finely chopped
1/2 packet green peas, thawed
1/4 cup olive oil
1 lemon
sea salt to taste

Serves 4

-Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Roast the eggplant till soft; about 35-40 minutes. Remove from oven and singe the skin over an open flame (use a blowtorch if available). Once charred, allow to cool and peel off.
- Squeeze the flesh to drain the juices and slice into equal portions.
- Separately bring water to a boil and blanch the peas.
- Combine scallion, green chillies, lemon juice and eggplant in a blender or food processor till roughly blended. Slowly add the olive oil till the mixture has a smooth, thick consistency. 
- Remove to dish and add peas, chopped cilantro, salt.
- Mix well and serve.  

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Skinny Bi*ch of a book

Skinny bitch: a no-nonsense, tough-love guide for savvy girls who want to stop eating crap and start looking fabulous! [Book]
I finally got around to reading it. It had been on my radar for some time and so, when at the airport and faced with a dearth of material, it seemed the perfect companion; easy read, seemingly witty and direct. Also, any reminder of why we should eat healthier is always welcome.
Well, it was all that and more. First thing that took me by surprise was the language; direct, crass  and funny, as in I-can't-believe-she-said-that funny! Of course, I had expected it given the title of the book and did find myself laughing out loud at points yet a bit  perturbed by the aggressiveness of it.
I also felt the book was promoted in a misleading manner. It has a vegan agenda and you become aware of it fairly quickly, say by the 4th chapter. Yet it is not marketed as such. Lulled by reading about the effects of sugar and soda, I suddenly had the dank, brutal insides of a slaughterhouse stuck in my face! It was almost as disturbing as stumbling upon "Faces of Death" in my youth when I thought we were being shown a nature documentary (true story). I agree it is important to know where your food comes from and the virtues of a vegetarian diet but I am really not interested in giving up meat or dairy completely. And I don't want to be pushed towards it by the authors' promise of a hotter body if I did so. Oh yes, there is a promotion of stereotypical body images here. Finally, I felt a number of theories laid out are unsupported, loosely researched or contradictory. The author(s) rely too heavily on a combination of shock tactics and intimidation to make their point.
So, I found it to be overall engaging and informative in bits but would advice that it be read with a grain of salt and the permission to skip over the unsavory parts. At the end of the day, all I need to know is what is on my plate and be thankful for and respectful of the nourishment it provides my body.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Who doesn't love butter?

In Subcontinental gastronomy, ghee (clarified butter) is considered to be a prize ingredients. In Ayurveda, it is revered as an elixir; credited with promoting physical beauty, health, vitality and longevity. It adds a rich flavor and a nutty aroma to food and basically makes any dish a better version of itself, as Julia Child would agree. However, sadly, in our age of information and education, we can't ignore the fact that saturated fats have a strong link to high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease. Luckily, there are a number of delicious alternatives.
My basic choice is olive oil but I also use mustard and grape seed oil. Another favorite is coconut oil. This is again high in saturated fat, however, it has a number of health benefits and a high smoking point so useful for frying. Interestingly, civilizations that eat a diet rich in coconut oil have shown no significant incidence of cardiovascular disease.
All this being said, I still like to keep ghee in my diet as I believe in it's beneficial qualities and, like anything else in life, believe that balance is key. I incorporate it by adding a teaspoon to whatever oil I am using for the baghar/ tempering oil in the recipe.
A word of caution: heated oil should not allowed to smoke for a period of time. It is the point at which degradation of flavor and nutritional value begins. At first sign of this happening, add the ingredients and start cooking. Fumes inhaled from smoking oil are injurious and it is important to cook in a well-ventilated area.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Turnip pickle- Shaljam ka Achaar

This takes me back to lazy, winter afternoons. My grandmother would prepare this delicious pickle as soon as the air turned crisp and the sunshine softened. Winter was heavenly. With the first breath of dry, brisk, slightly smoky air, we would come out of air-conditioned cocoons and delve into a flurry of social activity to make most of the forgiving weather. This pickle would herald in the season for me and be eaten with every meal until about mid-March, at which point the humid heat would rear it's stifling head again and we would burrow back indoors.

4 large turnips
1/4 cup crushed red pepper
1 tbsp. mustard seeds (rai), crushed
1/2 cup nigella seeds (kalongi)
4-5 garlic cloves, crushed
1/4 cup salt

- Slice the turnip into 1/4 inches width
- Add to a full pot of boiling water and parboil
- Remove and allow to cool slightly
- Reserve the liquid and refrigerate
- Spread out on a tray, add all the remaining ingredients and rub well into the slices. 
- Cover with muslin cloth and let marinate overnight
- Next day, transfer all the above to a stoneware pickle jar
- Reheat the reserved liquid and pour into the jar till the turnips are covered
- Check the salt and adjust to taste
- Seal and allow to sit in the sun or a well-lit area for a couple of days till the liquid turns cloudy and opaque (usually 5 days)
- Enjoy with arhar ki daal and plain chawal!

* You can check the liquid again after 3 days and adjust the flavorings according to taste.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Roasted Eggplant - Baingan ka Bhurta

3 medium-sized eggplants
1 med. onion, diced
1 tomato, diced
3-4 fresh curry leaves (kari pata)

1 tsp. cumin powder
1 tsp. coriander powder
1/2 tsp. red chillies
1 tsp. tamarind paste (or whole tamarind soaked in water overnight)
4-5 sprigs cilantro
1-2 green chillies
2 tbsp. olive oil 
sea salt to taste

Serves 4                                             
-Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Roast the eggplant till soft; usually 30- 45 minutes. Remove and singe the skin over an open flame (use a blowtorch if available). Once charred, allow to cool and then simply peel off. Cut up the flesh and mash into a pulp consistency.

- Saute the diced onions till clear. Add the tomatoes and curry leaves (careful as these will sputter). Add all the spices and cook till the tomatoes are soft.
- Once done, add the eggplant and tamarind. Cook on medium heat till any liquid is evaporated; about 15-20 minutes.
- Add the chillies and chopped cilantro and cook for another 2 minutes.
- Remove from heat, garnish with more chopped cilantro and serve with basmati rice.

* There is another, simpler version of this dish that I will post soon.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Tempered Tomato Stew with Eggs- Timatar Kat

A Hyderabadi specialty.  Although, we don't have direct familial connection to the region, there is great love for its tangy, tart and sweet food with the piquant, fragrant spices. Timatar Kat was prepared on special occasion and was eagerly awaited and devoured!

12 plum tomatoes or 1 can stewed tomatoes
2 tbsp. yellow split pea (chana daal)
1 tsp. cumin seeds                                           
2 whole red chillies                                           
2 tsp. tamarind paste (or whole tamarind soaked in water overnight)
3 tsp. ground ginger (about 2 cloves minced)                                          
1 tsp. ground garlic (about 1" ginger minced)                                           
2 green chillies                                           
3-4 fresh curry leaves (kari pata)                                           
1/2 tsp. sesame seeds (til)
1 tsp. brown sugar                                           
3 eggs                                           
salt to taste                                           
1/2 tsp. methi (fenugreek seeds)                                           
1/2 tsp. cumin seeds                                           
2-3 whole dried red chillies                                           
4 kari patta (fresh curry leaves)                                           

- Soak the daal for 2 hours. Remove from water and allow to dry.

- In a dry pan, roast the daal, cumin seeds, whole chillies and sesame seeds till fragrant and the mixture darkens slightly (this should happen fairly quickly). Set aside.

- If using whole tomatoes, blanch in a pot of boiling water and remove skin. Cook over medium heat in a little water till soft and mushy (water should be enough to result in a stew-like consistency). If using stewed tomatoes, skip to the step below. 
- In a saucepan, add the prepared spices, tamarind, ginger, garlic, green chillies, kari pata, salt and til to the tomatoes and cook on low-med heat for 30 minutes. Keep mashing while the mixture is simmering till a medium consistency is achieved.
- Separately, boil eggs. Once hard-boiled, set aside, let cool and then peel and divide into two parts.
- Make the baghar- Add oil to a pre-heated pan and immediately throw in the methi, zeera and red chillies. As they sizzle, add the kari pata (careful as this will sputter).
Let the mixture sizzle for another 30 seconds and then pour over the tomatoes and cover immediately and let sit for 2-3 minutes.
- Uncover and decorate egg halves in the kat and serve.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Slow-cooked Pot Roast- Pasandey

This dish was our staple in the mid- 1980s. We had just moved back from Dubai, leaving behind an idyllic life. My mother was homesick. We lived in an apartment overlooking the beach. She spent hours gazing out of the window, doodling, listening to music and would wax poetic about old days. The dinner menu was the furthest thing from her mind. We were on a regular diet of torai, daal, chawal and roti and on good days, pasandey. It was delicious in the beginning till we all had too much of a good thing and one of us burst out at the dinner table, 'again'?!!

2 lb. beef (flank steak is best, if not available, use skirt steak or brisket cut)
1 med. onion sliced
1 large onion chopped
*21/2 tsp. coriander powder
*21.2 tsp. cumin powder
*1/2 tsp. red chili powder
*1/2 tsp. garam masala
1 tbsp poppy seeds (khaskhas)
2 cup yogurt
sea salt to taste
olive oil
1 sprig cilantro (chopped)
2 - 3 green chillies (chopped)
lemon wedges
* The spice measure above are restrained. Feel free to adjust based on personal preferences.

- Roast the spices (coriander, cumin, red chili and garam masala powder) in a dry, preheated pan till the mixture turns fragrant and darkens slightly (2-3 mins). Add to the uncooked meat and mix well.
- In a separate hot pan, drizzle oil till the surface is well-coated (about 2 tbsp.) and add the onion slices (to get even thickness, a mandolin is very useful). Once they start caramelizing and browning, remove from heat and add this mixture to the meat also.
- Finally, add the yogurt, diced onions, poppy seeds and salt. Mix well, allow to rest for a couple of minutes and then refrigerate for 2-3 hrs.

- Drizzle some oil on a preheated pan and add the marinated meat. Mix and allow to steam up on high heat.
- Reduce heat to low and let meat cook covered till tender, about an hour.
- Once tender, uncover and cook further till any liquid that has accumulated evaporates and oil starts separating, 20-30 minutes.
- Serve with chopped coriander leaves, chopped green chilies and lemon

My mother's original recommendation at the end of her recipe was, 'eat with paratha'! I like fragrant basmati rice. Both work, your choice. Bon appetit!