Beet parathas; a classic recipe book

Beet paratha

Beet paratha

Some years ago I found a book in a used bookstore that really spoke to me in the depths of my soul. It electrified me from the title alone, even before I cracked open the pages.

Now a few books have been known to be enormously influential in people’s lives. For some it may be ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’ by Nietzche, or ‘Atlas Shrugged’ by Ayn Rand. For others it might be ‘War and Peace’ by Tolstoy. For me, it was this:

tasty dishes from waste items by Aroona Reejsinghani

tasty dishes from waste items by Aroona Reejsinghani

For the 1970’s in India, in the midst of famine, this book was quite apropos. I remember talk of the high prices of vegetables at every social gathering. Meat for many was simply out of the question. This book begins with an acknowledgement of the scarcity that every housewife has to deal with. It goes on to celebrate the leaves, stems, peels, leftovers that most of us throw away. The author painstakingly lists the vitamin content of each of these leaves and rinds, including the mysterious Vitamin P (?)

Not only is it completely impressive that she was able to do this research in the days before Google, it is astounding how many recipes she was able to come up with.

In here one finds 5 recipes that make use of banana peels (throw away the outer green part, she advises), 9 recipes that use turnip leaves, 2 that want you to fry up potato skins. Curdled milk, of course, is an industry, and the author dwells on that for a bit. Stale bread gets its own section with 36 recipes. Leftover fish, meat, chicken each get their own sections as well.

Now we no longer live in a world of food scarcity but quite the opposite. Most developed countries don’t spend over 10% of their income on food, in the US, where I live, it is around 7%. But the message of this book is more relevant than ever. The cost of food production remains very high, it just doesn’t come out of our paychecks, but instead we pay for it with depleted soils and poorer biodiversity.

I have to admit I don’t go scavenging around the thrown away peels for my next meal, but instead compost everything. Given my chunky waistline, I figure it is even better to feed the worms than me.

Beetroot

Beetroot from foodreference.com

Beetroot from foodreference.com

Now, about beets. Here is basically the entire beet plant from roots up to the leaves. Stare at the leaves for a bit. You all know that the greens are nothing but chard, right? Beetroot and chard are not even different species but simply different breeds. Just like a Dalmatians may be bred for running and bloodhounds for tracking a scent, but both remain dogs, chard is bred for fancy leaves and beetroots for fancy roots, but both remain Beta vulgaris. The roots of the first and the leaves of the second can be eaten. This website has more on this: Is chard root edible.

If you have no use for the greens, you could discard them I guess, but for goodness sake don’t throw them away and then go buy chard at the market!

Out of the bunch pictured, here are the parts I ended up throwing away for this recipe, the rest was all eaten. I threw away the long tails of the roots. I threw away the part where the roots turn into stems — that tends to be tough. I peeled the roots thinly with a vegetable peeler. Last, some stems have thick fibers that simply zipper all the way off; if I caught hold of some of those, I threw them away, otherwise I chopped them up along with the stems and leaves.

Parathas with beet root and greens filling

A reader might be forgiven for wondering if I’m going through the little-girl spectrum for my parathas; some time ago I did a recipe for purple parathas, this time they are pink.

Anyway, the idea of the stuffed paratha is simple — it is a whole wheat flatbread stuffed with filling inside. The filling for these consists of the grated root and the finely chopped leaves and stems, cooked together with seasonings. Parathas are great with some plain yogurt on the side.

Tails trimmed

Heads and tails trimmed

Greens finely chopped

Greens finely chopped

Grated, cooking with oil

Grated, cooking with oil

Cooked down and dry

Cooked down and dry

Uncooked paratha, pink showing

Uncooked paratha, pink showing

Cooked paratha, stacking up

Cooked paratha, stacking up

See the pink?

See the pink?

Parathas with beet root and greens filling

  • Servings: 8 parathas
  • Print

Ingredients for filling:
  • 3 medium beetroots with greens and stems
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon red chili powder (or to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon chaat masala, substitute with dry mango powder, substitute that with lime/lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon oil
Ingredients for parathas:
  • Roti dough made out of about 1 cup whole-wheat flour as in this recipe
  • Oil or ghee or butter for shallow frying on griddle.
Method:

Make the dough and set aside for half hour to rest. Make the filling: peel, trim and grate the roots. Rinse and finely chop the greens and stems. Heat the 1 tablespoon oil in a wide pan. When it shimmers, put in the beets, greens and all. Stir to coat with oil. They will very quickly start to cook down. Add the salt, the red chili, and the chaat masala and stir. The point is to dry out the filling. Once it looks pretty dry, turn off the flame and wait for it to cool. Taste for seasoning and adjust. I generally prefer the filling to be highly seasoned because the dough does not have any seasoning at all.

To make the parathas you can refer to this recipe, but I’m including most of the steps anyway. The dough is the same as used for rotis/chapatis. Roll out a thin circle about 5-6 inches wide. Place a couple tablespoons of the filling in the middle. Gather up the edges of the disk into a pouch. Flatten the pouch with your fingers, then roll it out again carefully so as to prevent the filling from escaping. Once it is a flat disk once again, about an eighth of an inch thick, it is time to shallow-fry on the griddle.

Heat the griddle on medium-high. When some drops of water thrown on it sizzle, it is time to put the rolled out paratha on. Wait for 30 seconds while the underside cooks; then flip it. Wait for another 30 seconds while the second side cooks. Now spread a few drops of oil or ghee on the top surface and flip it, to have the bottom shallow-fry in oil. A minute of this, now spread a few drops of oil on this surface and flip it again, letting it cook another 30 seconds. This way, each surface has been cooked twice, first roasted dry, then with oil, on the griddle.

Stack up the prepared parathas; enjoy them with some plain yogurt on the side. Greek yogurt is very popular nowadays, it would make a great dip for these.

I’m entering this in the Family Foodies challenge for May, which is to do with frugal eating. Perfect! Minds knitted together across the interwebs…that’s what blogging is all about.

This is hosted over at Bangers and Mash and Eat Your Veg…this is a link to the May challenge. May the cheapest skinflint win!

 

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My Parathas turned Purple

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I have a huge amount of respect for nutrition scientists. But one can sense that in food, they have met a worthy adversary.

Carbohydrate, fat and protein

WHO Food pyramid

WHO Food pyramid

There were the days when they confidently issued proclamations about ‘food pyramids’ that could be rendered in the colors available in a child’s crayon pack. There was carbohydrate, fat, and protein. Various experiments were performed on unsuspecting dogs and rats that led them to believe that out of the three, protein was the one true nutrient.

Then came sailors and prisoners who were given protein enough, but were afflicted with swollen gums, purple spots, and finally, death. This disease was called scurvy. This disease had been known since the Roman times, and had often been treated with herbal cures such as lemon juice. Another time, a sailor stepped ashore and ate some cactus fruit, and found that it had curative properties too.

The vitamins

So what was it about lemon juice and cactus fruit that had the magical property to cure scurvy? Surely, they thought, since scurvy was a disease of ‘putridness’, whatever that means, and clearly, acid cuts ‘putridness’, it has got to be the acid in lemon juice that does the trick. So they began dosing sailors with diluted sulfuric acid and vinegar, to no avail. This acid treatment went on pointlessly for years, apparently, until a doctor named James Lind had a forehead-smacking moment and realized the sulfuric acid was doing more harm than good.

James Lind feeding citrus fruit to a scurvy-stricken sailor aboard HMS Salisbury in 1747 (Artist: Robert A Thom)

It was through such nightmarish means that scientists were forced to accept that the complexity of nutrition went beyond the big three of fat, carbohydrate and protein, and the ph dimension of alkaline and acid. By the early twentieth they had identified nutrients that were given the name ‘vitamins‘ which meant ‘force of life’, or something. Vitamin C cured scurvy while Vitamin B cured beri beri and pellagra; others were discovered too.

So food science climbed up the ladder of complexity, but you can tell how many nutrients they expected to find in food, because they started naming them after the alphabet. There may be ten, there may be twenty, surely it would not go beyond A through Z, right? They found 13 vitamins.

Phytonutrients

The farther one goes, the farther behind one gets. Now they have identified so many nutrients that this layperson (me) has lost all hope of catching up.

Phytonutrients‘ is the name used to describe all kinds of nutrients available only through plants. They help plants perform all their planty duties: fight germs, fight aging, fight toxins, stay alive, in other words. They give the plants their colors; their smells; their pungency. When we eat plants, we get the benefit of these chemicals too, for surprisingly similar functions.

Now there is a type of phytonutrient that is a pigment that gives plants a purple color (anthocyanins). There is tons of tantalizing research about how beneficial these pigments are for us. There is evidence from folk medicine — hibiscus has been used for liver dysfunction, while bilberry has been used to cure night-blindness. There is evidence from the test-tube that the purple pigment prevents the growth of cancer cells. There is evidence from tests on rats that the purple aids in cardiovascular health.

The pigments have antioxidant properties, so that is one reason why they might have so many benefits. But scientists are now alive to the dangers of accepting the simple explanation. These pigments belong to a set of 4000 other compounds called flavonoids; plants use all of them in concert to perform various functions through their lives. So it is not just this or that chemical that provides this or that benefit; it might be any of the 4000 thousand put together that does it. So it isn’t the purpleness itself; it is the army of its cousins working together in the plant.

That makes sense — plants do not live on vitamin supplements. They use whatever they’ve got in whatever combination they can, to do the things they need done. If we eat those plants, we ingest those chemical complexes and gain similar benefits.

We have come a long way from the time scientists dosed sailors with vinegar. Now one can imagine them shaking their fist and saying, ‘Just — just go eat purple food.’

Well, that’s easy.

My purple parathas

I love stuffing cauliflower or potato into rotis to make parathas. Eating them with plain yogurt is soul-satisfying. But on this day, I made them purple.

Ingredients for the roti:

  • Have a look at this recipe (Rolling the Roti) and make as much as you need. I made 2 potato parathas and 8 cauliflower ones = 10 rotis total.
  • Oil or ghee as needed.

Ingredients for potato filling (for 2 parathas):

  • 1 medium purple potato
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons finely chopped onion
  • 1 tablespoon finely minced cilantro
  • 1 small green chili sliced, or substitute with half a teaspoon red chili
  • 1 teaspoon chaat masala
  • Salt to taste

Ingredients for cauliflower filling (for 8 parathas):

  • About 4 cups purple cauliflower florets
  • An inch of ginger, minced fine
  • 1 – 2 green serrano chilies
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 2 – 3 teaspoons chaat masala
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • Half a teaspoon cumin seeds (optional)
  • Sprinkle of asafetida (optional)

Method for potato filling:

Microwave the potato until it is soft. Mash it, peel and all. Mix in the other ingredients, squeeze it into a sort of dough, and divide into two disks. The filling is ready, each disk will go into one paratha.

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Method for cauliflower filling:

Grate the cauliflower, mince the ginger and chili. Heat the oil in a large thick-bottomed pan on medium heat. When it shimmers put in the asafetida and the cumin. When they sizzle put in the ginger, chili, and grated cauliflower. Stir to coat with oil. Add the salt and the chaat masala. Raise to heat to nicely dry the cauliflower. It is very important to get the cauliflower to be as dry as possible, or it will make your life hell while rolling out the parathas. When it is dry enough, turn off the heat and let it dry.

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Method for composing the parathas:

Roll out a roti about 6 inches in diameter. Place the right amount of filling in the center. For the cauliflower it is about 3 heaped tablespoons, for the potato filling it is about a 2 – 3 inch disk of potato. Gather up the edges of the roti and give it a squeeze. Flatten the pouch into a disk and start rolling it flat with the filling inside.

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While rolling parathas the ever-present danger is that the filling will come squeezing out like toothpaste out of a tube. One must learn to avoid that. One way is to use a very gentle hand while rolling — you don’t want a few long, weighty rollings, instead many quick, darting, gentle rollings. Use dry flour as needed to patch up holes.

The ideal paratha, when rolled out, has such a thin roti cover that one can see the filling peeping out in various places, but it doesn’t actually fall out. Keep your eye on that ideal.

Meanwhile have a cast-iron griddle or tawa going on a medium-high flame. Slap a prepared paratha on. After 30 seconds, the top surface will seem a little set. Flip it over. Wait 30 seconds. Now spread a bit of oil or ghee over the top surface and flip it over for another 30 seconds. Repeat. In total, each side has been cooked dry twice, then cooked with oil twice.

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While one paratha is cooking, did you think it was time to stand around and have a coffee break? No, my dear, get busy rolling out the next one. When one gets practiced one can have two griddles going at once.

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Have it with some plain yogurt on the side, nothing else is needed.

You say potato pancake, I say aalu tikki, she says kartoffelpuffern

Potatoes take supremely well to crisping up in oil. The brown crunchy coating that they develop, given enough oil and heat, is quite beguiling. Then again the insides consisting of the potato itself tends to be quite bland, so needs some help in the taste department. Also, potato does not hold itself together while frying, so it also needs some help in the ‘having integrity’ department. A conscience? No, a binder.

I have basically described an aalu tikki — a cake of mashed, spiced potato that is bound with some bread and fried in oil. This is a common Sindhi dish, eaten as an appetizer, a side, or an evening snack with possibly some sweet and hot chutney on the side.

My first clue that cultures have discovered this basic paradigm over and over came from a Swiss girl who interned at my work place. Invited over to our home for a meal, she spied a plate of aalu tikkis and said — ‘kartoffelpuffern!’ Kartoffel — potato, puffern — cake. Till today, this pair consists of the only German words I know.

Another such concoction is the Eastern European/Jewish latke. Here the potato is grated rather than boiled and mashed, and clearly the Indian version is more spicy, but the end result is similar. Latkes are traditionally eaten at Hannukah; we are a little late for that, but nice and early for the next one.

The recipe below makes about two dozen tikkis.

Aalu Tikki

Ingredients:

  • 3 russet or other starchy large potatoes
  • 1 tablespoon salt for boiling
  • 3 slices bread. It should not be sweet. I used crusty sourdough.
  • 1 tablespoon chaat masala, substitute with dry mango powder, substitute that with lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons coriander powder
  • 1.5 teaspoons salt
  • Quarter to half cup finely chopped onion
  • Quarter to half cup finely chopped cilantro leaves
  • 3 – 4 finely sliced fresh chilies, if you are cooking for kids you can leave them out.
  • Up to half a cup of oil

Method:

Boil the potatoes in about 3 – 4 cups of water. Put them in cold, add about a tablespoon of salt to the water, bring to a boil, and simmer, covered, till the potatoes are soft. I used a pressure cooker and it took about 10 minutes under pressure. Drain the potatoes when done and peel them when cool.

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Meanwhile have the bread slices soaking in water until the crusts are softened. This will take at least 15 minutes. Now, squeeze out the water from the slices and save the bread. This will be used as the binder.

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Mash the potatoes. Once the lumps are more-or-less gone, add in the squeezed bread, the spices, salt, and the minced vegetables. The point is to mix this stuff nicely into a mostly homogeneous dough. I have found that this works best with your hands. There is no other kitchen implement that has five rubbery prongs with such fine control, plus the strength of the heel of your hand.

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Anyway. Once the dough is ready, one is ready to fry them. Form small fistfuls of the dough into flying saucer shaped disks and save them on a plate. Clearly this must be done by hand, but oil your hands first to get it to not stick.

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Heat two tablespoons of oil at a time in a large, flat, thick-bottomed, non-stick pan. Once it is shimmering, put in as many disks as will fit in a single layer with gaps around. Flatten and spread them with a spatula somewhat. This is best done on high-ish heat with enough oil bubbling away beneath; in this configuration each side should take about five minutes.

Flip each tikki when it is browned underneath. Add more oil for this side. Five minutes on this side should suffice as well.

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Remove them and place on a paper towel to soak up the extra oil.

These are best eaten fresh, with a bit of chutney or ketchup on the side; if you like sandwich a tikki between bread slices and have it that way.

Clay pot potatoes from Nepal

Dum Aloo Nepali

Dum Aloo Nepali

For all intents and purposes, Nepal is very much Indian. To keep things even-handed, I am also going to insist that India is very much Nepali. Other than the fact that Nepal had a king until very recently, while us Indians dispensed with our gaggle 60 years ago, our cultures are very close, we share a majority religion, and most of our food heritage.

Speaking of which, I recently discovered from this book — 660 Curries by Raghavan Iyer — that Nepal has its own version of a Dum Aloo. How enticing!

‘Dum’ is a method of cooking that the Mughal emperors brought to India. It involves cooking in a deep pot of unglazed clay (called a handi), which is sealed with a flour paste; the food is cooked slowly over coals. The seal is only broken at the moment of serving; at which point the collected aroma is meant to make the guests keel over in delight.

‘Aloo’ of course means potato. This dish traditionally uses whole baby potatoes that have been first fried. The Kashmiri version of this dish is best known, but today we alter it slightly by going a little to the east, and a tiny bit south. To Nepal.

Dum Aloo Nepali

Ingredients:

  • About 15-20 tiny new red potatoes; each potato should form one or two bites. I couldn’t find any small enough, so I used 6 larger red potatoes, which I then quartered.
  • 3-4 large cloves of garlic
  • fresh chilies according to heat tolerence, I used 3 cayenne
  • one bay leaf
  • half a teaspoon cumin seeds
  • half a teaspoon fennel seeds
  • half a teaspoon ajwain seeds
  • half a teaspoon turmeric
  • 1.5 teaspoons salt total
  • 2 tablespoons mustard oil; if you don’t have this, use any oil.
  • some lime juice sprinkles if you like
  • minced cilantro for garnish

Method:

Of course I am not going to use a clay pot nor seal it with flour; nor do coals make an appearance. We are going to ‘dum’ the 21st century way, in an oven.

First, wash and boil the potatoes in about a cup and a half of water, lightly salted (put potatoes into cold water, bring to a boil, simmer for 10 minutes). The potatoes should be more or less cooked, which you can test by piercing with a knife.

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Take the potatoes out and quarter while leaving the peel on. Also, do save the water, we will use it later.

Chop the chili and garlic and make a paste as I explain in ‘Rustic ginger-garlic paste with the optional chili‘. Of course leave the ginger out in this case.

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Heat oil in a thick bottomed pan on medium-high heat. When it shimmers add the seeds and the bay leaf. When they sizzle add the garlic-chili paste. Let it cook for a minute, then add the turmeric and quartered potatoes. Saute them gently to cover with the spice paste; add salt. Remember that you have added some salt in the boiling water already and some presumably in the garlic-chili paste; so adjust the total amount or go by taste. After a couple minutes of this, put in the water saved from boiling the potatoes. Stir gently and bring to a boil.

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At this point I do a dum facsimile. Transfer the potatoes into a deep pot with a tight lid. Cover with the lid, but you might also want to seal it with a layer of foil in between the pot and the lid. Put it into a 300 F oven for 20 minutes.

Open the lid just before serving; add some lime juice and some cilantro, stir gently and watch your guests keel over.

660 Curries by Raghavan Iyer is an excellent book by the way, and has many unusual recipes. It is a keeper despite my allergy to the word ‘curry’. On which more later.

Taro the terrible escapes again

Taro chaat

Taro chaat

…with some excellent results. I have before made note of taro root‘s scruffy appearance and its delectable nature. In this appetizer from my Sindhi childhood, taro shines with a few well-chosen accompaniments. This dish can go as a side with any Indian meal, or have it in the evening during a chaat and tea session.

Taro chaat

Ingredients:

  • 2 or so medium-sized taro tubers
  • 4 tablespoons tamarind chutney
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped onion
  • 1 tablespoon minced cilantro leaves
  • Quarter teaspoon salt
  • Quarter teaspoon red chili powder
  • Half a teaspoon cumin seeds

Method

Rinse the taro and microwave it for about 5 minutes. Now it will be softened inside. When it cools, peel it to reveal the creamy white flesh. Cube it into quarter-inch wide cubes and save in a bowl.

Put in the cilantro and onion. And one is supposed to ‘layer the salt’ so go ahead, add enough salt for this amount of ingredients and stir. This will be about a quarter of a teaspoon but use your judgment.

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Now put in the prepared tamarind chutney. Now. A slight digression about tamarind chutney is forthcoming.

You can make tamarind chutney the easy or hard way. The hard way uses the dried pods of tamarind, either peeled and made into a block, or the pods themselves. Either way this method requires a lot of soaking and squeezing with your fingers to get the pulp out. So I tend to use a shortcut method — tamarind paste is the one thing I do buy prepared from the store. I use tamarind paste, and this is a good recipe for tamarind chutney using the paste. If you want, you can add a couple dried dates, chopped fine.

Roast the cumin seeds in a hot, dry pan for a minute or two, till they turn a shade darker, and grind to a rough powder in a clean coffee grinder or a mortar and pestle.

Top the tamarind with the red chili powder, and the cumin powder, stir well, and you are done.

This makes enough for one person as a largish side, but is easily multiplied. Oh — and if you don’t possess tamarind or have a special hatred for it, you could substitute with a similar amount of lime juice.

The Tahoe gratin

Tahoe Gratin

Tahoe Gratin

We spent labor day in a rented cabin in the Tahoe region. We had a state of the art kitchen at our disposal, a warm cozy evening for dining in, a few vegetables in the fridge, but no spices whatsoever. What’s an Indian cook to do?

Gratin!

I love gratins — the creamy cheesy crusty casseroles. I was first introduced to gratins in an strange fashion — a pure vegetarian Gujarati restaurant in Bombay had a ‘Vegetable Au Gratin’ on the menu and it was delicious. Restaurants in India have this strange quirk where the advertised cuisine hardly matters — a South Indian dosa restaurant will have an entire Indian Chinese menu, and throw in a club sandwich as well. They don’t seem to believe in specialization of cuisine.

Sort of like the proprietor here at The Odd Pantry you say? Hmm.

At any rate, this is a pure vegetarian gratin, and it is built in layers of potato, cauliflower and corn…all vegetables with distinct flavors that nevertheless that have a certain savoriness that unites them.

The Tahoe gratin

Ingredients:

  • 1 large red potato or 2 medium
  • Half a head of cauliflower
  • Half a pound bag of frozen corn kernels
  • One and half cup milk
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons whole wheat flour (same amount as butter)
  • salt to taste
  • A 2″ by 2″ by 2″ block of good sharp cheddar cheese

Method:

In this dish I precook all the vegetables to minimize and equalize the gratin baking time. The other principle I follow is to salt each layer on its own.

First, the potatoes. Slice the potato as thin as you can get them (eighth of an inch). Put them in a pyrex container, add salt enough for the potatoes, and submerge them in half a cup milk. Microwave for 2 – 3 minutes and then set aside.

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Next the cauliflower. Slice the florets into quarter inch thick slices, put them in a bowl, add some salt, and once again, microwave for 2 – 3 minutes and set aside.

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Next the corn. Same routine — put in a bowl, add salt enough for the corn, and microwave. With the frozen corn all we are trying to do is thaw them.

Vegetables are ready. Let’s make the bechamel sauce. Heat the butter in a small pot. When it melts, add the flour and stir, stir, stir on gentle heat. It will foam and bubble and perhaps turn a shade darker. Now put in the milk. Stir with your wooden spoon for dear life as you slowly pour the milk in. You may need to resort to a whisk, the idea is we are trying to not have any lumps. Keep the heat gentle. You can also pour in any extra milk from the potato cooking bowl. Once all the milk has gone in, and the mixture is smooth, you can up the heat and bring to a boil. Add salt enough for this sauce.

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Once it comes to a boil, turn it off after a minute. We are ready to compose the layers. In a flat baking dish, first layer in the potato slices, trying to keep even thickness. Next put on the cauliflower florets in a layer. Next the corn. Now pour the bechamel sauce all over the vegetables, pushing and prying with a spatula to get it everywhere.

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Cut the cheese up into tiny cubes. Cover the top of the casserole with cheese. Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes at 425 F. In the last 10 minutes, take the foil off to get it to brown. If you want more of a brown crust, stick it under the broiler for 5 extra minutes.

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Here are some other ideas for other vegetables to add to the mix: peas, leeks, roasted zucchini.

 

Sookha aalu, Indian home fries

All right, Americans, I will admit it, you are better at naming recipes than us Indians. The dish called ‘sookha aalu’ which is made in different guises all over India means nothing but ‘dry potato’. Descriptive, yes, but lacks a certain punch.

Some American marketing geniuses

American marketing geniuses

Then the American marketing geniuses come in, and decide that any recipe name is improved by bunging in the word ‘home’. And on top of that, they came up with the word ‘fries’…. “Guess what guys, we won’t include the word ‘potato’ at all…a light touch…a bit of indirection.”

Genius! Home fries. My point here is that India has legions of most excellent sookha aalu recipes and really they are almost exactly what people in America recognize as home fries, except with Indian spices. Here is my version, and it is most delectable.

Sookha Aalu, Indian home fries

Ingedients:

  • 1 large red potato or 2 medium or several small.
  • salt to taste
  • half a teaspoon mustard seeds
  • half a teaspoon red chili powder
  • half a teaspoon coriander powder
  • 1 teaspoon dry mango powder (aamchur) or substitute with lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons oil

Method:

Rinse the potato and remove the eyes. Microwave it for 5 minutes or so, or long enough to almost cook it right through.

When it comes out of the microwave, wait till it is cool enough to handle, and cut it into pieces. First, Do Not Peel. If you do you will regret it. The crisped up peel is definitely the most appealing part of this dish.

Next, think about the shapes of the pieces. You could do cubes, if that is your fancy. Don’t make them bigger than about half an inch in width. Or you could do slices, about eighth of an inch thick. Either way works, but choose a method and stick with it, unlike me, I chose slices, then switched to cubes, then had a bit of a hodge podge.

Heat oil in a non-stick pan. When it shimmers put in the mustard seeds. When they pop put in your cut up potato. Stir them around on medium-high heat. Sprinkle salt over in two stages — once, after you have tossed the potatoes with the oil, and next, after  a few minutes, and more stirring.

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You will see them begin to crisp and brown in a few minutes. Keep stirring once in  a while, and cook in all for about ten minutes. Towards the end of cooking time, sprinkle on the chili powder, the coriander powder and the dry mango powder. Adjust for salt and you are done.

Taro the terrible

Kachaalu took

Kachaalu took

Today more Sindhi food — a snack, this time, called kachaalu took.

Here is taro. It is a root or tuber, grown underground in the tropics all over the world. Also known as arbi, colocasia, kachaalu, dasheen.

Taro root

Taro root

This is one scruffy guy, as you can see. You are more likely to find it in a vegetable police lineup than in the vegetable swimsuit catalog. But I’m always happy to find it on my plate.

If you read the Wikipedia article I linked to, you might notice one thing — the countries where taro is eaten are all third world countries. This is telling. I don’t know what it is telling me, but perhaps that taro is not glamorous?

In reality this is a pretty healthy vegetable. Its leaves are large and heart-shaped, and can be eaten simply as greens or rolled around a filling. The tuber can be fried, boiled, mashed, sauted, roasted, baked, sauced, or microwaved (as we will see below) in endless variations. But whether you eat the leaves or the tuber, it must be cooked before eating, because it is somewhat toxic when raw.

The recipe below is eaten as snack either with dinner or before. Traditionally this recipe uses the double-fry method, but to make it somewhat healthier, I use the microwave and get quite comparable results. I also shallow, not deep, fry.

Kachaalu took

Ingredients:

  • A few tubers of taro
  • some salt
  • some oil
  • red chili powder
  • dry mango powder, substitute with lime/lemon juice

Method:

Rinse the tubers to get the lose dirt and hair off. Set them in a plate and microwave for about 5-6 minutes or until softened. Wait for them to cool until you can handle them, then pull the peel off. Now slice the tubers into quarter inch thick slices.

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Heat the oil in a non-stick pan. When it shimmers it is time to lay the slices down. Sprinkle with salt as they are cooking. Also press down on each slice with a spatula to a) get it to be in full contact with the hot oil, and b) flatten out a bit to be in even more contact.

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Pretty soon a delicious aroma of browning will arise, most reminiscent of bacon cooking. When you detect browning on the underside (this will take about 3 minutes on high-ish heat) flip each slice over

Sprinkle this side with salt as well. Flatten each slice with a spatula once again. In three more minutes, they will be browned on both sides.

Remove the slices to a plate and sprinkle with red chili powder and dry mango powder (aamchur). The latter adds a very necessary tang to the dish, so if you don’t have it, use lemon or lime juice instead.

I challenge any greasy-spoon diner to compete with this in sheer sinfulness!

Kachaalu took

Kachaalu took