Pearl couscous salad with paprika and mint dressing

We’re back to school, lovelies! And what a back-to-school dramaturgy it’s been. We’ve been having a record-breaking heatwave here in southern California, no joke, temperatures reached 100+ with nasty Santa Ana winds (the equivalent of the Delhi ‘loo’) blasting in from the desert.

This salad has been a lifesaver in this unseasonably hot weather. Not only does it keep well in the fridge for days (making a most delicious lunch indeed), but it is easy, quick, cooling, and manages to strike that magic balance between being both light and filling (perfect for teaching days). Don’t be daunted by the long list of ingredients – almost everything is replaceable and substitutable – you can replace the couscous with quinoa or another grain, you can replace the chickpeas with white or kidney beans, and you can replace the mint with basil or parsley. Etc. Etc. Etc. Whatever you’ve got lying around, I promise it will work. The toasted almonds add such a nice crunch and depth of flavor, you really do need the crunch, so if you have to substitute them, use something crunchy!

You get a hint of cinnamon and smokiness from the bay leaf in the couscous, which adds that subtle vacation-y feeling to this. So we can pretend like summer’s not really over.

Bon appetit!

pearlcouscous

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dressing

Prep time: 20 minutes

Serves: 2 as generous lunch portions, or 4 as a side

Ingredients

2 cups pearl couscous (sometimes called “Israeli couscous”)

1 15 oz. can (about 430 gms) of chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1/2 white onion, finely chopped

1 stick cinnamon

2 small or 1 large bay leaf

1/2 cup black olives, halved

2 cups cherry/grape/heirloom tomatoes, halved

4 small Persian cucumbers, chopped

4 cups boiling water

3/4 cup slivered or chopped almonds, lightly toasted

3 oz. crumbled feta cheese (or any cheese you like, or omit if going vegan)

For the dressing:

4 sprigs of mint, finely chopped

1/2 tsp. paprika

2 tbsp. white balsamic vinegar (or red wine vinegar is fine too)

4 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Dry roast the couscous in a saucepan until the pearls start browning, about 3-4 minutes.
  2. To the couscous, add 4 cups of boiling water (double the amount of couscous you are using), the bay leaves, cinnamon stick, onion and a pinch of salt. When it starts to boil, lower the heat, put on a lid, and cook for about 12-15 minutes.
  3. In the meantime, assemble your other ingredients: chickpeas, tomatoes, cucumbers, and olives.
  4. In another small pan, toast your almond slivers and set aside.
  5. Prepare the dressing.
  6. When the water from the couscous has evaporated and the pearls have puffed up, set aside and let the mixture cool down for a few minutes. Remove the cinnamon stick and bay leaves carefully. Lightly fluff the couscous with a fork.
  7. Add the dressing. Gently combine everything with a fork.
  8. Sprinkle the cheese and toasted almonds on top. Serve!

Note: if you will be eating this as leftovers, don’t add all the almonds now – just add them to your own bowl. Save the rest and add them just when you are about to eat so they stay crunchy.

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Pasta with tuna, parsley, olives and lemon

 

tunapasta6I had my last day of teaching this past Thursday, the end of my first year in a new job. I feel euphoric(!) – so pleased to be done with teaching and administrative duties for the time being, and to finally be able to work on my own stuff (Academics are a weird breed; we are grateful to have more time to work).

Anyway, these last few weeks have left me feeling spent, and I’ve been reaching for dishes that don’t require a trip to the grocery store, yet that don’t scream “PANTRY.” It is very, very likely that you will have most of these ingredients sitting around (I know I do). I love this recipe because it is all about combining staples–like olives, tuna, and pasta–with a generous dose of herbs, acid, and freshness, making this light and delicious. And you probably don’t need to leave the house!

A few tips, though: buy absolutely the best tuna that you can (sustainably caught, in olive oil, preferably from a jar rather than a can. I couldn’t find tuna in a jar, so I bought an expensive can of sustainably caught albacore tuna in olive oil.) Also, you are welcome to make your own breadcrumbs (they take exactly 8 minutes), but since I was feeling exceptionally lazy, I just used Panko breadcrumbs that I had lying around, and they worked beautifully. Third, I am a big fan of whole wheat pasta, but with this recipe, I think you really have to go the white pasta route. There are just too few ingredients here to disguise a chewy whole wheat pasta (but feel free to try if you are committed to it!)

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Serves: 2

Time: 15 minutes

Ingredients:

Approx. 200 gms. spaghetti per person 

20~ olives (I used a combination of green and black, but use whatever you have)

1 can/jar tuna fish

2 cups flat leaf parsley, chopped

3/4 cup Panko breadcrumbs, lightly browned (you can also make fresh breadcrumbs by putting two slices of bread in a food processor, adding a dash of olive oil and pulsing. Then toss into the oven on 350 F for 6-8 minutes)

The zest of 1 lemon + its juice

1 tbsp. olive oil (preferably extra virgin)

1 cup pasta water (reserve before draining the pasta)

Generous grind of pepper

  1. Put the water for pasta to boil. Once it’s boiling, salt generously, and add in your pasta. Keep track of the cooking time (it will vary according to the package). In another small saucepan, add your breadcrumbs and brown lightly. Or make your own breadcrumbs (see above).
  2. In a separate bowl, assemble the rest of the ingredients: chop the parsley none too fastidiously, add the lemon zest and lemon juice, and olives. Mix together.
  3. Drain the pasta, but make sure you save 1 cup of pasta water (you don’t have to use it all). Add the parsley, lemon juice, olives, pepper, and olive oil. Add a little pasta water as well and mix everything together.

tunapasta54. Gently flake the tuna into the pasta (do this after mixing all the other ingredients so that you don’t break it up too much).

5. Sprinkle your breadcrumbs on top.

 

6. Serve!tunapasta7

Soba noodles with kale, tahini and ginger dressing

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Here we go: another quick, yummy lunch fix. I’ve been tripping on this no-cook dressing for weeks now. It can literally be ready in less than 10 minutes (not counting the time that it takes for your water to boil). But honestly, this is perfect if you are like me and rush home starving and want something quick, tasty and also healthy. I usually have these ingredients in my pantry as well, so it’s not as if any shopping is required for this.

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tahinidressing

Prep. time: 10 minutes

Serves: 2

Ingredients

1 bunch purple or green kale

25 gm (1 bundle) of soba noodles per person

1/3 cup tahini

2″ piece ginger, grated

1/2 cup warm water

1 tbsp. sesame oil (+ a dash more for noodles)

1 tbsp. sriracha (add more if you like)

2 tbsp. rice wine vinegar

1 tbsp. soy sauce

1 tbsp. honey

1 scallion stem, finely chopped

1/4 cup sesame seeds, roasted

  1. Put about a liter of water to boil. In the meantime, remove the kale leaves from the stem and prepare your tahini dressing (combine tahini, ginger, warm water, sesame oil, sriracha, rice wine vinegar, honey and soy sauce).
  2. Once the water is boiling, throw the kale leaves in and blanch for about 5-6 minutes, until leaves soften. Using a slotted spoon, remove the leaves and set aside.
  3. Throw in the soba noodles into the same boiling water, carefully noting cooking times which will depend on whether you are using dry noodles or not. Once a la dente, drain noodles into a colander and rinse with cold water to cool. Add a dash of sesame oil on top of noodles to prevent them from sticking. Pour in dressing and massage into the noodles nicely.
  4. In a bowl or plate, arrange your kale at the bottom. Add the noodles and sauce. Garnish with scallions and sesame seeds. Enjoy!

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Pumpkin and Salmon Thai Yellow Curry

‘Tis October– jewel-toned pumpkins and pale, pimpled gourds and squashes are everywhere, ranging from the miniature, bite-size variety to the pregnant ones too heavy to carry and the big white ones that look like enormous heads of garlic.

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funkypumpkins

Here's the one I bought: just your average, cute-looking mid-sized gourd
Here’s the one I bought: just your average, cute-looking, mid-sized gourd

To me, this recipe – pumpkin and salmon yellow curry with bok choy – embodies what October is all about: a slight chill in the air, Halloween decorations adorning window displays and backyards, settling into the rhythm of the semester, while the end (six weeks more!) is tantalizingly close.

This recipe comes courtesy Nigella, specifically Nigella Bites. I love Nigella, the simplicity and lushness of her cooking, especially when she’s cooking for one. Her recipe includes shrimp as well, which of course, you can add here if you like along with the salmon. But I think the salmon is quite hearty and substantial on its own. This golden, marigold curry is perfectly balanced and will warm you right up after a long day at work or school. Aside from prepping the pumpkin, which can take a few minutes, the rest of it is pretty straightforward and quick.

Prep: 40 minutes

Serves: 2

Ingredients

Approx. 1/2 pound salmon fillet (preferably organic), skinned and cut into large, bite-sized pieces

1 lemongrass stalk, cut in thirds (whack the lemongrass with your knife at different points along its spine so that it releases its lovely citrusy scent)

1/2 a medium-sized pumpkin, peeled and cut into large bite-sized chunks (3/4 pound approx.)

1 1/2 cans of coconut milk (approx. 20 oz.)

1 tbsp. Thai yellow curry paste. Start with 1 tbsp and then add more during the cooking if you want more heat.  (I like the brand Mae Ploy. You can also use red curry paste if you don’t have yellow – see my recipe here). Note: the curry paste is not vegetarian – it has shrimp paste in it

2 tbsp. palm sugar (use cane sugar if you can’t find palm sugar)

1-2 tbsp. fish sauce (start with 1 tbsp and add more later if needed)

1 1/2 cups warm water/vegetable stock/ fish stock (I used vegetable stock here)

1 tsp. turmeric

3 heads of bok choy or any other green vegetable

Juice of one lime

Cilantro, for garnish

  1. Prep your ingredients: first, cut up the pumpkin into bite size pieces – discard the mushy center and seeds and remove skin.

    Knife skills are not perfect but as long as they are more or less the same size, it doesn't really matter.
    As you can see, they are not all perfectly the same size, but as long as they are more or less the same, it’s fine.
  2. Cut the salmon into bite size pieces as well, approximately the same size of the pumpkin.

    This is the beautiful fillet I got today.
    This is the beautiful fillet I got today.
  3. Chop your lemongrass and put a heavy saucepan or crock pot on medium heat.
  4. Add 1 tbsp. of curry paste into the pan and skim the creamy bit of the coconut milk from the top of the can. Combine the curry paste and coconut cream well until it becomes a thick but pale-looking sauce. yellowcurry1
  5. Continue to gently stir the sauce and add the warm water or stock, fish sauce, lemongrass, palm sugar, and turmeric. Bring to a boil. The sauce will become bright and golden once you add the turmeric. yellowcurry2
  6. Add the pumpkin and simmer, on medium-high heat until the pumpkin is almost fully cooked (cooking time of squash varies considerably – so keep an eye out. It could take anywhere from 5-15 minutes).
  7. Pierce the pumpkin with a fork and when it is still a soft but with some stiffness still in it, add the salmon and bok choy and cook for another 3-4 minutes.
  8. When the vegetables wilt, squeeze in the juice of one lime.
  9. Taste to make sure the flavors are balanced. Add fish sauce if you desire more saltiness, sugar if you want more sweetness, and more lime if you want it more sour. Take the pan off the heat and garnish with cilantro just before serving over white or brown rice.
  10. EAT!pumpkincurry3

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Mediterranean Orzo Salad

I often find lunch to be a problematic endeavor. It usually catches me off-guard–there I am, typing away furiously, and lo and behold, its 12:34 pm and my stomach is growling.

During fieldwork, following Kashmiri norms, I cut out lunch altogether. Instead, I would eat a massive brunch of ghee-soaked parathas and yoghurt (not Kashmiri) until my tummy ached. “Lunch” consisted of coffee or tea, maybe a piece or two of toast if one of the doctors ordered some from the hospital canteen. Then, I’d rush home at 6 pm sharp, and a glorious mountain of sticky rice and hak (spinach) or other vegetables would be waiting for me. This, I would consume, with my hands, with half an eye on the banal Hindi serial on the telly. Now, I know this was not at all a healthy schedule (I am well aware of the six small meals a day thing, but really? who has time to cook six meals?) and I am not advocating the two huge meals a day routine. But, honestly, I miss the simplicity of that schedule, no lunch problem plaguing me.

Now, ready to start a new teaching term (tomorrow folks!), I find myself all too often in that stomach-grumbling phase and again, unprepared. Out of desperation, I will eat something on campus: packaged veggie sushi or tacos or a $10 salad and inevitably feel guilty. I’m determined to put an end to this mindless/unhealthy eating this term and am on the lookout for lunches that carry well, are easy to prepare, delicious, and healthy. Early career teachers also know about the stomach butterflies on teaching days that we must factor into the eternal ‘what to take for lunch’ question. If you have other good suggestions for office lunches that fit the bill, do share.

The following recipe, a sunny, bright, Mediterranean-inspired salad that I recently discovered, is ideal. It can jostle around in your bag all day (trust me, I tested), it’s lovely and refreshing at room temperature or cold, and its light and filling at the same time. I mean, chickpeas, olives, tomatoes, feta, parsley…these are really some of my favorite things. You don’t even need to worry about packing the dressing separately, because the orzo and vegetables soak up the flavor really nicely, all day long.

My Trader Joe's haul

You can easily prepare this in the morning before you dart out the door, while you are doing five other things. I recommend making a big batch and keeping it in the fridge. It will keep for a couple of days (although I recommend keeping your dressing separate if you are going to store for more than a day). This rainbow-colored salad looks beautiful and each bite is different. It makes eating lunch at your desk actually something to look forward to!

Prep time: 20 minutes

Serves: 2 big lunch portions (or 3 smaller)

Ingredients

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 clove garlic, minced

Juice of one lemon

1 roma tomato chopped, with seeds removed, or 15 cherry or grape tomatoes, halved

1 dozen, black, pitted kalamata olives, halved

1 bunch curly parsley, chopped

8 oz. or 200 grams chickpeas or garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed

1/2 small red onion, chopped

3 oz. feta, crumbled (approx.)

1 yellow/orange bell pepper (optional)

1 cup orzo, cooked according to package instructions

Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Put about 8 cups of water to boil. When the water comes to a rolling boil, add salt and 1 cup of orzo. Stir the orzo occassionally and cook according to package instructions (about 9 minutes). When it’s done, drain the water and put your orzo into a big serving bowl and let cool. Note: your orzo will expand significantly after it cooks.Orzo1

Orzo: after

2.  While your orzo is cooking, prepare your dressing. Add lemon juice, one chopped garlic clove, salt, pepper, and olive oil into a mason jar and shake well until the dressing becomes creamy and a mellow yellow color. Set aside.De-seed and chop your tomatoes, olives, orange or yellow pepper, parsley, and red onion.

3. Open your can of chickpeas/garbanzo beans, drain out the water and rinse the beans well.

4. Time to assemble! Over your orzo, distribute all your veggies on top, with your parsley last. Crumble the feta over the veggies. Add the dressing and mix everything gently, but well. Note: if you don’t want such a robust onion flavor in your salad or, say, you have student conferences all afternoon, you can mix a bit of the red onion in with your dressing instead. The acid from the lemon juice will mellow out the flavor. Starting to look beautiful!

5. Add a little more parsley and/or feta for garnishing if you desire. Bon appetit!

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Easy Peasy Creamy Dal

I’m excited to write my first post by request.

“I can’t get dal quite right,” my friend Nandini said one recent afternoon, as we shared a lunch of veggie burgers and salad.   My eyes widened.  I think I mumbled something about the magic of the pressure cooker. She said something about its scary whistle.

It has taken me years to get dal right—that deceptively simple staple in every north Indian household. I wholeheartedly agree that pressure cookers are kind of scary. But after having bought one and using it regularly, I can tell you that it is totally worth it and only a little scary, and that too, only in the beginning.  Don’t let this baby intimidate you. You get used to the whistling sound pretty quickly, and then it stops being quite so alarming. Pressure cookers, in my humble view, are one of the best kitchen gadgets a person can own. Mine is similar to this one, which has an easy button that you slide down to click it open or closed, with two settings (1 and 2—I always use 1, the lower setting). Also, as I have learned from many-a- Top-Chef episode, pressure cookers are fantastic for braising meats, so definitely a worthwhile investment. Best of all, the pressure cooker enables your dal to be ready in a mere thirty minutes total, including prep time. It takes 5 minutes to chop up your ingredients and another 5 to sauté them, put the lid on and let your dal cook for twenty minutes and voila!

After years of frustration , I promise that you will not be able to replicate the creaminess of a pressurized dal using an ordinary pot. The pressure simply breaks down the lentils so that the entire mixture is smooth and the dal and water have literally become one. There are few things better in life than some steaming rice soaking up creamy dal, with a side of lemon or mango pickle. Heaven.

PS—The secret of my dal recipe is the squeeze of lemon at the end. Lemon with Indian food is a must; it really brings out the flavors. This will make a great soup for lunch, or served on top of rice makes a truly complete meal.

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Prep time: 30 minutes

Serves: 2

Ingredients

1 tbsp. vegetable oil

1 dried red chili

1 tsp. cumin seeds

1 medium yellow/red onion, finely chopped

1 tbsp. ginger-garlic paste (or 1” fresh ginger and about 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped)

1 roma tomato, chopped

1 cup red lentils

1 tsp. turmeric powder

1 tsp. coriander powder

1 tsp. red chili powder (optional)

8 cups of warm water

1 tsp. salt

Squeeze of lemon

Cilantro, for garnish

  1. Heat 1 tbsp. oil in the pressure cooker on medium heat. When the oil is hot, swirl it in the pot and add the red chili and cumin seeds. When the cumin seeds start to sizzle, add in the chopped onion (The onions will start to brown the bottom of the pressure cooker – don’t worry – this will be deglazed once you pour in the warm water.)
  2. Add a pinch of salt to the onions and sauté until brown, about 3 minutes. Add in the garlic, ginger, and chopped tomato. Saute for another minute.
  3. Add in the red lentils and water and gently stir everything together.
  4. Add the turmeric powder, salt, coriander powder, and red chili powder, if using. Mix everything together.
  5. Put the pressure cooker lid on. Your stove should be on medium heat and you should use the lower pressure cooker setting. If you don’t have multiple settings on your pressure cooker, just time the whistles.  Once the whistle goes off, cook the dal for 15-20 minutes.
  6. Remove the lid, squeeze in some lemon. Taste for salt. Garnish with cilantro and serve!

 

 

 

 

Cold Weather Cooking

Hello people! It has taken me longer than planned to blog, but finally, a Saturday arrived where I’m not drowning in job applications or students papers. Hooray!

Since I last wrote, fall became winter, and daylight savings arrived, rudely shortening the days. I’m still getting used to the darkness at 5 pm, which is making me want to eat dinner at 5:30, crawl into bed at 7, and watch Chopped or Gilmore Girls (I’m in a very easy, no-brainer phase of Netflix-watching at the moment. Blame it on the aforementioned job apps).  In addition to bringing out my geriatric tendencies, the colder weather also makes me want warm, soupy, curried things even more than usual, so expect a few recipes in that genre soon.

Finally, today, we make use of the homemade curry paste calmly chilling in your fridge. Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten your hard work in making that paste from scratch, and here’s a warm and spicy reward. As always, with a curry, there is a degree of flexibility with the ingredients. Although this is a tried and tested recipe, there will be some variation depending on your own palette, the particular ingredients you use, and the whimsy of the gods. So, taste as you go!  However, I do recommend sticking to the 1 tbsp. of red curry paste since its very, very spicy. You can always add more if you like to clear your sinuses when you eat (no judgment). At this level, the dish certainty still has heat, but is not going to burn your mouth. If things get too spicy, add some more palm sugar, fish sauce, and a bit more water.

Don’t feel obliged to use the same vegetables that I did: simply use whatever you have in the fridge. Green beans, broccoli, tofu, butternut squash, shrimp, or chicken are all fine substitutes. Just remember that you do want a nice spectrum of colors, since the curry itself will be a light gray color and does not scream “DELICIOUS.”

PS–I also want to showcase the wonderful form of palm sugar I found at the Asian grocery store.  Usually, palm sugar comes in a solid chunk and is sometimes hard to scrape out (plus there is a waxy layer on top that you have to remove), I have found these pellets to be extremely useful and user-friendly.  I used one of these nifty capsules for the curry (minor drawback to these is that they are not so great for salad dressings in which you need palm sugar).

palmsugar

prettyveggies
Pick pretty veggies!

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thaicurry

THAI VEGETABLE CURRY

(Modified from Durham Spirit Company’s “Thai Summer Vegetable Curry.”)

Prep time: 40 minutes

Serves: 4

Ingredients

1 stalk lemongrass, chopped (peel off the outer layers and bang the stalk across its spine before chopping).

3 cloves garlic, finely minced

1 knob galangal, roughly chopped

1 tbsp. red curry paste

33 oz. or 1 l. coconut milk (approximately 3 cans)

½ cup warm water

4 tbsp. fish sauce

2 tbsp. palm sugar

½ purple eggplant, cubed

½ yellow squash, cubed

½ zucchini, cubed

½ red bell pepper, cut into 2” pieces

¼ cup Thai basil, chopped

Squeeze of lemon

  1. Heat a wok on medium-high heat. In the dry wok (no oil), add the garlic, lemongrass and galangal and sauté for a minute. Add the curry paste and sauté until the curry paste changes color and becomes dark brown.
  2. Pour in the coconut milk, and turn the heat down to medium. Add the fish sauce, water, and palm sugar and bring to a simmer.
  3. Add the eggplant and simmer for 15 minutes, until soft. (This is a good time to put your rice to boil in a separate pot.)
  4. Once eggplant has softened, add yellow squash, zucchini, and red bell pepper and simmer for 5-7 minutes.
  5. Add the Thai basil and a squeeze of lemon. Turn off heat and serve with white or brown rice.

Lazy Saturday Sambhar

Aside from being with my family, one of the things I miss most about Delhi is a South Indian restaurant called Sagar, in my neighborhood market (Many neighborhoods—or “colonies” in Delhi speak—have their own little shopping markets). Sagar, a veritable culinary institution as far as I’m concerned, has remained remarkably unchanged in the twenty or so years since my family has been eating there (a weekly culinary expedition started by my grandmother, who was a huge fan of dosas, South Indian savory crepes usually with a spicy potato filling). Yes, the prices have crawled up, but Sagar is still very affordable. The restaurant has a no-frills approach (despite occasional menu revamps) to food and produces consistently delicious dishes. I must have eaten there hundreds of times, and I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad meal. Best of all, the flavors never seem to change, and I love the sense of security that comes with that.

With your idli, dosa, uttapam, or thali, you receive unlimited bowls of coconut chutney, a spicy tomato chutney, and steaming, sippable bowls of sambar. In Durham, unable though I am to fully recreate the Sagar experience, I have, nonetheless developed a sambhar recipe that I think has some capacity to transport its consumer to Def. Col. Market.

This dish does require a trip to the Indian store, but I think it’s worth it. My shortcut is buying already-mixed sambhar powder, rather than making my own (you also get sambhar paste at Indian groceries, which also works fine here. Just follow the same steps). Sambhar powder is a combination of coriander seeds, turmeric, cumin, red chillis, salt, fenugreek seeds, black pepper, brown mustard seeds, cassia, dried ginger, large cardamom seeds, nutmeg, cloves, mace, caraway, and asafetida. Phew! So rather than assembling all of those spices on your own (which is of course highly enjoyable and fun, but time consuming), I recommend buying the powder as is. It smells fragrant (from the cloves, nutmeg and cardamom seeds) and has a lovely marigold color. The key to this dish is to “fry” the sambhar powder to release all the oils in the spices. If you don’t fry the sambhar powder, the curry will have a raw flavor to it.

Easy Sambhar is another one of my one-pot meals. It’s delicious with white or brown rice or with idlis. You want the sambhar to be a bit watery—more like a soup than a stew. It should taste tangy, sour, and spicy, but the level of chili is up to you. This can be very mild or very spicy hot, depending on your own personal taste preferences.

Mustard seeds are one of the stars of this show...
Mustard seeds are one of the stars of this show…
My bruised and well-loved packet of sambhar masala
My bruised and well-loved packet of sambhar masala

onionssambhar

 

dalsambhar

sambharontable

sambharrice

EASY SAMBHAR

Prep. time: 1 hour

Servcs: 2

Ingredients

1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. mustard seeds
1 dry red chili (more, if you like)
5 curry leaves (dry or fresh)
1 pinch asafetida
½ onion, cut into slim half-moons
1 roma tomato, chopped
½ cup red lentils
8 tsp. sambhar powder (I know it sounds like a lot but that is what you need to make the flavors pop)
1 tbsp. tamarind concentrate (I’ve found that tamarind concentrate varies quite a lot depending on what brand you buy. I recommend starting off with 1 tbsp. but feel free to add more as you go along)
8 cups boiling water
1 medium white or red potato, chopped into 1” pieces
1 carrot, cut into 1” rounds
½ pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 2” pieces
½ tsp. salt
Coriander leaves (as garnish, optional)

  1. Put some water to boil. In the meantime, heat oil in a heavy bottomed pan on medium heat. Once the oil is hot, add the mustard seeds, dried red chili, curry leaves, and tiny pinch of asafetida. Once the mustard seeds start sputtering, add the onion. Add a pinch of salt and sauté until the onions are brown, about 3-4 minutes (You can sprinkle a few drops of water if you feel that the onions are dry and may burn).
  2. Add the tomato, sambhar powder and ½ cup of water. Stir the mixture into a paste. Saute for 3-4 minutes, until the powder has fully dissolved (the texture should be creamy, not grainy).
  3. Add the rest of the water, red lentils, potatoes, and tamarind concentrate and bring to a simmer.
  4. Simmer on low heat, uncovered for 20 minutes, until lentils dissolve and the curry thickens. Add salt, taste, and adjust spices as necessary. Periodically check the mixture to make sure its not too dry. Add a bit of water if necessary.
  5. Add the carrot and simmer for another 5 minutes.
  6. Add beans and simmer for 5 minutes. Garnish with coriander leaves, if you like.
  7. Serve with rice.

A Hoisin Feast for a Chilly Night

I love hoisin sauce, and this dish is an homage to hoisin.  This soupy bowl of goodness is so satisfying, and its a great thing to make when you are feeling slightly under the weather—like me tonight—when the prospect of pho, my go-to in times of illness, might not be within reach.  Its also perfect on a slightly chilly night, or a day, like today, when the skies drizzled feebly and nonstop.

I had the good fortune of taking a trip to the Asian grocery store (Li Ming) this past weekend and was able to pick up some of my favorite ingredients, including black dried mushrooms and pressed tofu.

dried mushrooms
I love that the brand of mushrooms is “gorgeous memory”

tofu

I know it doesn’t look like much now, but mushrooms and tofu are not the most attractive raw ingredients…

soaking mushrooms
Mushrooms in their soaking liquid

tofumushroomfinal3

TOFU AND MUSHROOMS IN HOISIN SAUCE

(Adapted from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone)

Prep and cooking time: 40 minutes

Serves: 2 (with leftovers)

Ingredients

2 dozen dried Chinese black mushrooms

1 block firm tofu, drained and pressed to remove any excess water or 1 block pressed tofu

3 tbsp. sesame oil

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

8 oz., white mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

Salt

Mushroom-soaking water

¼ cup rice wine vinegar

4 heaping tbsp. hoisin sauce

1 tbsp. soy sauce

1 small tomato, chopped

3 scallions, chopped at a diagonal

  1. Put water on to boil. Once its boiled, pour it over the dried mushrooms, cover and soak for about twenty minutes.
  2. In the meantime, drain the water from the tofu and press with paper towels to remove any excess water. Cut the tofu into cubes and fry in 1 tbsp. sesame oil in a sauté pan. You want to sear both sides of the tofu, so that the texture is firm with a crunchy crust. (You can skip this step if you have pressed tofu).
  3. Heat a wok or deep pan, add 1 tbsp. sesame oil and swirl it around the sides. When it’s hot, add the garlic and stir fry for about thirty seconds, until fragrant. Add the white and dried mushrooms (save the water) and ½ tsp. of salt and stir fry for two minutes, until the mushrooms soften.
  4. Add the mushroom water and bring to a simmer. Once it’s simmering, add the vinegar, hoisin sauce, sesame oil (1 tbsp.), and soy sauce. Add the tofu cubes, stir everything together, and let simmer for five minutes.
  5. Add the chopped tomato, simmer for another minute, and turn off the heat.
  6. Garnish with scallions and serve with brown or white rice, or on its own.

Shakshuka: a Middle Eastern Breakfast Delight

Shakshuka is one of those Middle Eastern recipes that is claimed by different ethnic communities across the region. According to Yotam Ottolenghi, the dish was created in Tunisia but was brought to Israel by Jewish communities. However, I’ve also heard that the dish originated in Yemen or Saudi Arabia.

The first time I ate shakshuka was in 2006, in the Sinai peninsula in northern Egypt, where Hani, our Bedouin host, served it for breakfast along with homemade tahini and hummus, pita bread, and guava juice. I loved–and still do–the simplicity and vibrancy of the dish, and its one of my favorite breakfast dishes of all time.

When I eat it, it still brings up memories of the Mars-like landscape of the Sinai peninsula and the simplicity of vacation time. That’s me, sleeping on the beach as the sun rises…

beachsinai

Yotam Ottolenghi has a recipe for shakshuka that is different from mine (he uses saffron and other ingredients, which I omitted here), but, at the risk of sounding sacrilegious, I find my version simpler and closer to what I remember from my experiences in Egypt.  But really, you can be flexible with what herbs you have on hand. Ottolenghi uses parsley and coriander, which works very well, but I love the combination of basil and coriander too.

I had the pleasure of procuring some beautifully bruised red and yellow peppers at the Farmer’s market today.  Shakshuka is the perfect showcase for them, not to mention a great way to wander back to a serene holiday.

Farmer's market produce
Farmer’s market produce
onionsfrying
Onion half moons frying


shakshuka3

shakshuka final

SHAKSHUKA

Serves: 2
Prep and cooking time: 15 minutes

Ingredients

1 tbsp. olive oil
4 eggs
1 white onion, cut in half moons
½ red pepper and ½ yellow pepper (or just one)
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 tsp. cayenne pepper/red pepper flakes
Handful of basil
Handful of coriander
Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Heat 1 tbsp. olive oil in a saucepan on medium heat.
  2. Add the onions with a pinch of salt and fry till yellow, about three minutes.
  3. Add the peppers and saute for another three minutes until softened.
  4. Add the tomatoes and cayenne pepper. Mix everything together. Add a tbsp. of water in case the mixture is dry. The texture should be thick and a bit wet – like a chunky pasta sauce. Add half of the coriander leaves and half of the basil leaves to the mixture.
  5. Once the tomatoes have softened, crack four eggs on top of the mixture, being careful not to break the yolks. Add a few grinds of black pepper and a dash of salt. Reduce the heat to low.
  6. Cover the pan and cook until the eggs are no longer wobbly, but the yolk is still runny (about four minutes) on low heat.
  7. Garnish with the remaining coriander and basil. Serve with pita or any good bread. Hummus (homemade if you can do it) is a great accompaniment!