Star-studded raisin-pecan bread

Star-studded bread

Star-studded bread

A lot of what I know about bread-baking I learnt at the home of Rose Levy Berenbaum. No, she is not my favorite aunt or neighbor (though how I wish she were) — she was in her home, on TV, and I was in my home, watching TV and earnestly taking notes.

I have made several of the breads in her book The Bread Bible, and this one is one of my favorites. Of course breads with raisins and nuts are quite common. But the standard configuration they come in is the sliced bread with a square shape, sprinkled with cinnamon and a swirl in the middle. Now that is wonderful, but there’s more to raisin-nut breads than the cinnamon swirl.

The Bread Bible

The Bread Bible

This particular bread (called the Raisin Pecan bread in the book) is a free-form loaf that is baked ‘naked’ in the oven, outside of any pans. Those are my favorite kinds of breads because of their crustiness. There is no cinnamon — that is the other difference. There is no swirl, instead the raisins and pecans are nicely spread throughout the loaf, hence the name that I gave it — star-studded. There is no added sweetness, making it less of a confection and more of an adult dinner bread. Spread with something creamy like clotted cream or a nice white cheddar it is one of the most popular snacks in our home.

She uses some ingenious tricks to enhance the flavor. A sponge is mixed hours ahead or the previous day. Raisins are soaked for 30 minutes, no more; and the soaking water is used in the bread. Some of the pecans are ground fine to be mixed in with the dough, some are just broken bits and add a delightful crunchiness to many bites. The nut and raisins are mixed in in a very delicate procedure, after all the heavy kneading is done,  to avoid a mess of runny raisin juice. Simple, small tricks, but they make a big difference.

I made one more modification — I substituted quite a bit of the flour with whole wheat, because we like that in our household.

Star-studded Raisin-Nut Bread

Mixing the sponge

Mixing the sponge

Soaked raisins

Soaked raisins

Pecans

Pecans with some pistachio thrown in

Straining ground pecans

Straining ground pecans

Ground pecans and bits

Ground pecans and bits

Sponge risen

Sponge risen

Mixing the dough

Mixing the dough

Spreading pecans

Spreading pecans

Adding raisins

Adding raisins

Rolling it up

Rolling it up

Ready for first rise

Ready for first rise

Shaped ready for second rise

Shaped ready for second rise

Risen

Risen

Scored

Scored

Done

Done

Star-studded bread (adapted from Rose Levy Berenbaum's raisin-pecan bread)

  • Servings: 2 pound loaf
  • Print

Ingredients for soaking raisins:
  • 1 cup raisins or currants
  • 1/3 cup water
Method for soaking raisins:

Soak the raisins in hot water for half an hour. At this point, drain the raisins and you will be left with 1/4 cup water, that you can use to make the sponge below.

Ingredients for sponge:
  • 1 cup bread flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 1 cup water (including raisin soaking water)
  • 1 tablespoon demerara sugar
Method for sponge:

Mix the dry ingredients together in a bowl, then pour in the water (remember to use 1/4 cup of the raisin water for added flavor), and stir stir stir with a wooden spoon or chopstick, almost like you are whisking it. The sponge will look like batter with some air incorporated into it. Cover with a plastic wrap and keep aside at room temperature for at least 1.5 hours, at most a whole day.

Ingredients for dough:
  • 1.5 cups plus couple teaspoons more of whole wheat flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 1.25 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup finely ground pecans
  • 1.5 cups coarsely broken pecans (I substituted some with pistachios)
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • All the sponge from above
  • All the raisins from above
Method for dough:

Stir together the flour, the yeast, the salt. Add in the sponge and the oil and the ground pecans, stir with a chopstick or the dough hook to moisten fully.  Cover with plastic wrap and leave it aside for 10 minutes. Come back to it and knead it properly into a dough. Let it rest for 10 more minutes.

Now flatten the dough and spread it out into a rough rectangle about 10 inches by 15 inches. Spread the broken pecans bits all over the rectangle leaving an inch border on all sides. Then spread the raisins over the same area evenly. Start rolling up the dough from a short end, also taking care to tuck in the edges. All the nuts and raisins will be hidden inside.

You do need to knead it lightly after, just to get it all to combine. At this point nuts and raisins might start falling out of your dough ball, just do your best to tuck them back in.

Cover with oil and allow the first rise until it is doubled, which will take about 2 hours. Shape it into a loaf and allow the second rise till doubled, covered with plastic wrap or a damp towel. This will take about 1 hour.

Heat the oven to 400ºF. Score the bread with a sharp, serrated knife. Each cut should go about half an inch deep. Mist the bread and put into the oven on a middle rack. In the first 5 minutes, mist inside the oven with a water spray bottle and quickly close the oven, about 3 or 4 times. After the first 5 minutes bring the temperature down to 375ºF. Continue baking for 40 to 50 minutes until it is golden brown.

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A Russian salad for America’s Independence Day

Russian Salad

Russian Salad

If by reading the title you expected intrigue and a spy-vs-spy story, you came to the right place. The story of Salad Olivier begins in Czarist Russia when wealth and luxuries were not yet verboten. A Belgian chef known as Lucien Olivier came to Moscow in the 1860’s bearing secrets of French cooking. He opened a fancy-shmancy restaurant in Moscow called The Hermitage. This was not a one-room affair, rather an entire building with multiple dining rooms. Here Chef Olivier served a salad with every manner of luxury ingredient and choice meat — caviar, capers, game hen, crayfish tails. He called this the Salad Olivier.

Hermitage restaurant, Moscow (source: http://www.sras.org/russian_olivier_salad)

Hermitage restaurant, Moscow (source: http://www.sras.org/russian_olivier_salad)

Of course, he did not invent this salad out of his sheer imagination but rather based it on a famous dish from Provençe known as Le Grand Aioli. This is essentially a feast of vegetables and meats, laid out separately to serve with aioli, which is basically a mayonnaise with garlic and mustard. He served his salad in layers, the ‘Provençal sauce’ on the side, to be poured over. His Russian customers would dispense with the niceties and simply mix it all up. So he followed their lead and Salad Olivier was served the Russian way, all mixed up with his Provençal sauce.

Salad Olivier made his restaurant famous; although the main ingredients of the salad were obvious for all to see, he never divulged the secret of what went into his mayonnaise. Now remember that mayonnaise at the time was a French import, not ubiquitous on every grocery shelf from Japan to the United States. It had to be made by hand. It is an emulsion, which means the liquids involved in it are so well mixed together that it is impossible to tell what went into it. So as you can see, mayonnaise is inherently mysterious. So is milk, another emulsion.

A lovely graphic showing emulsion by blog.ioanacolor.com

A lovely graphic showing emulsion by blog.ioanacolor.com

Sorry for the bad pun, but Lucien Olivier milked it. The secrets of his mayonnaise remained hidden until his grave. They had to come to his restaurant for the salad, or else go without. But then, a disgruntled local employee called Ivan Mikhailovich Ivanov tricked him into leaving his kitchen momentarily while the famous mayo was being whipped up. He managed to note down the ingredients, left the restaurant, and began selling his facsimile of Salad Olivier at a different restaurant, under the name of Capital Salad (Stolichny Salad).

This stolen salad was never quite as good as the original, but it did mean that the rest of middle-class Russia was able to partake in it. With the revolution came the backlash against all things bourgeois, and this salad was stripped of its more expensive ingredients. A sort of consensus developed around a small set of ingredients — potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, boiled chicken, peas, pickles.

From Russia it spread to the Middle-east and Asia, and to India. Growing up, my introduction to Russian salad happened in a vegetarian restaurant in India that avoided the chicken. Somewhere en route from Russia to India a very important modification was made to it — Russian salad in India always includes chunks of some crunchy fruit — pineapple, apple, etc. In my opinion this is the best part.

In fact that makes it, to my palate, more delicious than the potato salad that is traditional for July 4th barbecues, so that is what I brought to a friend’s. Any hint of treason is purely for taste.

First the mayonnaise. Lucien Olivier’s mayonnaise was an aioli, which includes garlic and mustard. I used this recipe (which used this recipe) and whipped it up in a jar.

Garlic and mustard

Garlic and mustard

Eggs, oil, garlic-mustard, lemon juice in a jar

Eggs, oil, garlic-mustard, lemon juice in a jar

Improvised double-boiler

Improvised double-boiler

Garlic mustard mayonnaise (aioli)

Ingredients:
  • 1 cup almond oil (you can use any light-tasting oil)
  • 2 medium eggs or 1 large
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • Salt to taste
Method:

Put minced garlic and mustard into  a mortar along with a pinch of salt. Give it ten minutes to sit and then pound it to a paste together. You do not have to powder the mustard seeds completely. Put the oil, eggs, garlic-mustard, lemon juice in a Ball jar or Weck jar or empty jam jar. Using an immersion blender, whir it for just about 30 seconds or a minute. The mayonnaise should come together right away.

Now my salad was going to be sitting out in the sun so I chose to heat it up to to 135ºF in a double boiler while blending away. You do not need to do this, specially if you use pasteurized eggs.

Now for the Russian salad, based on a French salad, made the Indian vegetarian way, for America’s Independence day. These are the ingredients I used, but please be creative and add whatever makes sense to you.

Ingredients for salad

Ingredients for salad

All diced

All diced

Dish lined with lettuce

Dish lined with lettuce

Mixed

Mixed

Vegetarian Russian Salad

Ingredients:
  • About 6 small red potatoes
  • 1 large carrot
  • 1 cup of frozen peas, thawed
  • 3/4 large red apple
  • 3 tablespoons slivered almonds
  • 1 small cucumber (substitute with celery)
  • About 8 outer leaves of butter lettuce
  • Half a teaspoon paprika, more for garnish
  • Salt to taste
  • About a cup of mayonnaise from above
Method:

Boil the potatoes and carrots in their skins, in salted water. When done, drain, let them cool, then dice into small pea-sized pieces. Dice the apple and cucumber into similar sized dice as well. Leave the skin on (adds a nice colorful touch). Thaw the peas.

Line your serving dish with the lettuce. Mix the ingredients together in a mixing bowl. Add the mayonnaise, paprika, and salt to taste. Mix together nicely. Serve it out in the bed of lettuce.


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In my kitchen of #cookingfail

Ship FAIL

Shipment FAIL

The Internet has spawned its own jargon. One of these is the word ‘Fail’ attached as critique to a thought or an image. The classic is the image of a container ship running aground, boxes awry, with the words ‘Shipment Fail’ emblazoned on it. It originated from people poking fun at a late 90’s Japanese video game that used the phrase ‘You Fail It’ as a game over message. It has now become a way to simply interject disdain, without having to explain anything, while nudging and pointing at an unfortunate scene. The anonymity of the Internet sometimes encourages the worst of humanity, allowing one to mock the Anonymous Other without the moderating influence of having to do it in their presence.

In other words, I love it!! Let’s get started! Here is a litany of unfortunate scenes in my kitchen this month, for the IMK party hosted at the lovely Fig Jam and Lime Cordial blog.

One. Broil the Handle.

Broil the handle

Broil the handle

Starving for an eggless omelette made from chickpea flour, but really, starving in general, I brusquely threw some flour in with some water and neglected to measure amounts. Who needs to measure stuff when one’s instinct is so fine-tuned, I thought. Well, the batter was too wet; it wouldn’t set on the stovetop; so I popped it under the broiler for a few, forgetting that plastic and broiler don’t go well together. Result: flames (I apologize I couldn’t take pictures of the flames, since I was too busy dousing them); and next, ashes.

Two. Disembowel the Bread.

Disemboweled bread

Disemboweled bread

Deeply cut slice from disemboweled bread

Sawtooth slice from disemboweled bread

I usually shape the loaf and score it just fine. This time I tried a new method of shaping that involved making a sort of purse with infinitely rolled in edges. Well, you see the result. The process of baking made this loaf sort of explode from the inside and spill all its guts out. Still tasted fine, though.

Three. Flop the Yeast

Poof and its flat

Poof and its flat

Dosa batter is risen with the wild lactic acid bacteria found on the beans. While sourdough bread is risen with a culture of wild yeasts and lactic acid bacteria. Slight difference; so shouldn’t sourdough starter work on dosa batter? Well, you can’t reason with the microbes, I found. I tried this experiment, and yes, there was rising activity; but here is what I found.

Bubbles arose within a day. But instead of bubbles foaming nicely everywhere, they seemed to explode out of the middle, as you can see. It smelled nicely sour, but perhaps a bit too sour? Still hopeful, I tried making crepes (dosas) and cakes (idlis) with it. That’s when I realized what had happened: there had been so much microbial activity that the thing was as sour as a lemon and all the bubbles had foamed up and gone, so instead of a nicely risen idli, I got a flat goo. Unfortunate.

Note: This was supposed to be my entry for the first ever Novice Gardener challenge at the lovely blogger Angie’s place. The rules stated it must use yeast and herbs. I used both; consider this my late, rueful, tail-between-my-legs entry.

Four. Dough-rolling Disaster

Sticky dough on waxed paper

Sticky dough on waxed paper

Sticky dough shreds waxed paper

Sticky dough shreds waxed paper

I have been doing this for years, you would think I would have figured it out. While making this weekend staple breakfast from my childhood, I found that the dough had turned out a little too sticky. Instead of doing the smart thing and adding more flour, I thought I would try rolling it out between waxed paper sheets. This is the sort of thing that is supposed to work, right? Well I did get the dough rolled into a nice flat circle, but when I tried to peel the waxed paper off, I realized that the two sheets of paper and my dough circle had fused together into a single mass, and there was no separating them, under pain of death. You can see what happened — the paper ripped apart rather than let go. I had a miserable breakfast.

Five. No gluten FAIL

Flatbread that WILL NOT hold together. Fail.

Sorghum flatbread that WILL NOT hold together.

Falls apart more while on griddle.

Falls apart more while on griddle.

Brunt crumbs. Fail

Burnt crumbs. Fail

Ugh. Epic fail.

Ugh. Epic fail.

I am concerned that they may take away my Indian Food Blogger card if I admit this; but I am a disaster at making gluten-free rolled out flatbreads. The other day I tried doing this with sorghum (jowar). Sorghum has no gluten. Gluten is what holds bread together and allows it to be rolled out. How on earth is one supposed to do this?

Other food bloggers seem to have no problem with it. There must be a secret Twitter group that I don’t belong to where they dispense these secrets. Here’s a blogger (Chef Divya) doing a millet flatbead. Here is a blogger (Food Flavor Fascination) doing a sorghum one. And look what I got. Urrgh.
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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!

 

In my kitchen of alternative uses (May 2014)

Centenarian

My 100th post! (Centenarian from socyberty.com)

I often read the ‘In My Kitchen‘ posts hosted over at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial and am always impressed by the beauty in them. The sense of style, the creativity in food on display there is quite inspiring. I feel like such a clod in comparison! Well, clods like us have our uses too. I would like to own my useful cloddiness.

For my 100th post (purely fortuitous, this) I looked around my kitchen and thought I’d talk about some of the gadgets, widgets, tools, thingamajigs, etc., that I found the most useful this month.

But here is the catch. Clearly a post that goes something like — ‘The Fridge! it keeps things cool. The Stove for cooking’ — would get boring really fast. So the catch is that I want to talk about 10 things in my kitchen that I find tremendously useful in unintended ways. That is, in ways that the manufacturer did not intend.

ONE. Oven light as yogurt maker: Here is a secret — you do not need a yogurt maker to make excellent yogurt at home. If your oven light works, leave yogurt to set all night in the oven with the light on. It shields from drafts and creates a gently toasty environment for the lacto-beasties to get to work. Here is more about the process. You can also use it to speed up the rise of your dough for bread.

An 'X' to remind not to turn on the oven while yogurt is setting

An ‘X’ to remind not to turn on the oven while yogurt is setting

TWO. Oven timer for good parenting: Readers who are parents might concur that parenting is a lot about negotiation. I let you play for 5 minutes if you jump into the bath right after. Read a book for 15 minutes exactly, then it’s homework time. And so forth. I avoid endless arguments like — ‘that wasn’t ten minutes! That was just ONE minute!’ by using the kitchen timer on my oven. And this is how little my kid trusts me — she has to be the one to set the timer. The advantage of the oven timer is that it is at her face level and is easy to set and easy to read. And my, the beep is loud.

Get into the bath, Now!

Get into the bath, Now!

THREE. Sushi serving platter as spoon rest: If you read this post of mine you might know that I scorn the wimpy spoon-rests one can buy at the store. The aspect ratio of the perfect spoon-rest in my mind is a wide and not very deep rectangle so several spoons can be rested on it on just their bowl parts. So I use sushi platters instead. They can be quite decorative. As is the one pictured, a birthday gift from my husband.

Sushi platter as spoon rest

Sushi platter as spoon rest

FOUR. Compost pail as utensil holder: Speaking of wimpy…the usual utensil holders available from, say, William Sonoma, are completely inadequate for the number of spatulas, slotted spoons, wooden spoons, tongs and turners that I need near my stovetop. So I use one of those ceramic compost pails which really are a bit too decorative to consign to collecting rubbish anyway.

Compost pail as utensil holder

Compost pail as utensil holder

FIVE. Coffee grinder as spice grinder: Buying pre-ground spices is a mug’s game because of their propensity to turn into cardboard (turmeric is an exception). One must have freshly-ground spices, but how?! The mortar and pestle is one option, but for a busy weeknight dinner one needs to unleash the grinding power of a thousand suns. In other words, the electrical coffee grinder. Except mine is always used for spices and is always situated on the counter.

Spice grinder

Spice grinder

SIX. Lobster tongs to clean sink traps: My husband came home one day with these precious little lobster tongs that you pinch with forefinger and thumb to pry out whatever one pries out from lobsters. They are about 3 inches long. Given that we never make lobster at home, I thought it was an odd choice. But he knew they would be useful some day, he just didn’t know how. And they are! You know that gunk that seems to collect in sink traps that one is loath to touch, and yet pick out one must? Lobster tongs to the rescue. One has to only once draw out a long hair with gunk all over it and drop it in the bin with one of these to get how useful they are.

Lobster tongs to pick out gunk

Lobster tongs to pick out gunk

SEVEN. Chopsticks as general purpose thingies: Chopsticks are some of the most useful devices known to man. Of course, I know that upwards of a billion people use it every day to eat their meals. But that’s not what I use them for. Instead, they are perfect for a number of kitchen tasks: pushing ground spices through a funnel; stirring flour and water in preparation for making the dough; making little ditches in soil for sowing your seeds.

Stirring flour and water with a chopstick

Stirring flour and water with a chopstick

Pushing through a funnel with a chopstick

My 8-year-old helping with a chopstick

EIGHT. Egg-shell cartons for sprouting seeds: Purely aspirational, this one, but can I please enter it anyway? Please? This idea has been on my mind for years. Imagine neat rows of 12 egg carton ‘pots’ with soil placed in each scoop, and seeds sown in each. Then when it is time to plant, cut the scoops away from each other and the whole thing can go in the garden bed. No need to transplant.

Saved egg cartons waiting forlornly for carrot seeds to be sown

Saved egg cartons waiting forlornly for carrot seeds to be sown

NINE. Coffee cone and filter for oil: There — you’ve done it again, you went and deep-fried something. Delicious, wasn’t it? And now what? Do you throw the oil away? No, you send it through a coffee cone with a coffee filter neatly placed in it, while the filtered oil drains into a jar. It will take hours, but you have time. The result is cleaned oil that you can use again and particulate gunk that you discard.

TEN. Spouse as dish cleaner and lab rat: When I married one of these I could not have conceived of the many alternative uses it has. Its kitchen uses were certainly not on my mind at the time of the courtship. But it turns out, given that one is a cook, the spouse can make a great dish cleaner. Also, my kitchen being a bit of a lab, it sure is useful to have the spouse be the experimental animal.

Hubby (he does in fact have a head)

Hubby (he does in fact have a head)

 

 

An early summer beverage

Spiced buttermilk

Spiced buttermilk with cilantro flower

Summer has come early to San Francisco this year; sometimes it feels like it never left. With climate change looming, this is not as good news as it might seem. But let’s not worry our pretty little food-blogging heads about this just yet and cool off with this yogurt beverage.

Spiced buttermilk: Neeru majjige

This is another specialty from the southern state of Karnataka from my friend Rashmi. Just think — instead of reaching for a sugary soda you could cool down with a tall glass of spicy yogurty neeru majjige. Better to taste and way better for your body.

Ingredients for Neeru Majjige

All the ingredients

Blend it

Blend it

Strain it

Strain it

Squeeze dry

Squeeze this stuff dry

Spiced buttermilk

Done – spiced buttermilk

Spiced Buttermilk (Neeru Majjige)

Ingredients:
  • A cup of yogurt
  • A cup to cup and a half water
  • Quarter inch ginger
  • Half a green chili
  • Few sprigs cilantro
  • Quarter teaspoon salt
Method:

Simpler than simple. Blend all the ingredients together. Strain it. Squeee–eeee-ze the green remains dry. The mixture is a pale green, the squeezing will drip delicious light green drops on it. Refrigerate for half hour if you like.

Garnish with a sprig of cilantro, or like I did, a cilantro flower from the garden.

I love you, Alemany Farmer’s Market! Plus: what one does with Bitter Melon Greens

Bitter melon greens with paneer

Bitter melon greens with paneer

I do so love you, Alemany Farmer’s Market! I love all the other farmer’s markets too but you are soooo special.

I have found that there are two types of farmer’s markets in the Bay Area. There are farmer’s MARKETS and then there are FARMER’S markets. The former are a lot about marketing. They sell produce, sure, but a lot of it is overpriced, and more than half the stalls are filled with high-profit-margin goods like infused oils in precious glass bottles. I can do that for free at home in an emptied jam jar and no preciousness.

Alemany Farmer's Market (Copyright: Kurt Rogers, The Chronicle)

Alemany Farmer’s Market (Copyright: Kurt Rogers, The Chronicle)

But Alemany farmer’s market, you truly are a FARMER’S market. I love you because you tickle my fancy every time I visit. Where else can I find corn that is blue and smaller than my palm and sticky. Where else can I find a fleshy, hairy stalk that is labeled ‘wild potato’ (even Google flopped on that one). Where else would I see tiny blotchy eggs that were apparently laid by a quail. Where else would I find a prickly pink egg, and not only giant taro with their purple stem still attached but also taro leaves. Where else can I find not one, not two, but three or four choy-related greens.

And no matter how strange and unfamiliar the sight I see, there’s always a crowd of customers expertly assessing, holding, pressing, rifling through the produce. There I stand, mystified, in awe, only to be elbowed aside by a little old lady with her cloth bag who has zeroed in on the unnamed leaves and is tossing aside the rotten ones and snagging the good ones. She is gone before I can gasp — excuse me, lady, can you save some for me, and by the way, what on earth is it?

In this farmer’s market, advice abounds. As soon as I pick up a fruit or vegetable and stand there regarding it, someone or the other’s voice will speak up beside me — you chop it, you fry it with garlic. Or boil it with chicken. Or what have you. More often than not, the English is broken and heavily accented and the accents could come from any part of the world from Africa to Vietnam. If San Francisco is a microcosm, then Alemany Farmer’s Market is a micro-micro-cosm. Or a micro-cosm-cosm? Something like that.

Best of all is when this market reintroduces me to some childhood friends that I didn’t at first recognize. The other day this happened to me twice. First I see these pretty round leaves tied in a bunch. The person at the stall informs me that they are moringa leaves, grown all over the world from Africa to the Himalayas to South-east Asia, a miracle vegetable that can cure all sorts of ailments. Sounds familiar, but what is it? Hold that thought…a post on that will come next.

Bitter melon greens

Bitter melon greens

Next I see a stall with these simply humungus bunches of bright green leaves with tendrils sticking out all over. Turns out these are leaves from the bitter melon plant — bitter gourd, karela, call it what you will. Well. That is an old friend and I love it. I have cooked with it many times. But I didn’t know that the leaves were edible too.

Bitter melon greens with paneer

Turns out they are, down to the stems. They are certainly bitter though, so I tried cooking them with something creamy to smooth out the bitterness. I used ghee and paneer.

The other thing about this recipe is that it is more of a mindset rather than a fixed set of steps. If you don’t have paneer, you might substitute with ricotta. If you don’t have the bitter melon greens, either dandelion greens, radicchio or frisée would be a great replacement. Out of the spices used, if you don’t have one, just leave it out, although of course the character of the dish will morph. The cumin seeds in particular, I would try not to leave out. Heat can come from any source like the cracked red pepper that the Italians use. Ghee of course, can be replaced with butter. Mmm…now I can’t wait to try this completely new recipe with all the replacements made! Here are pictures of the process.

Slicing the greens

Slicing the greens

Other ingredients: paneer, onion, garlic, chili, cumin

Other ingredients: paneer, onion, garlic, chili, cumin

Frying garlic, chili, onion

Frying garlic, chili, onion

Paneer goes in

Paneer goes in

Powdered spices go in

Powdered spices go in

Stir to coat

Stir to coat

Greens go in

Greens go in

Done

Done

Bitter melon greens with paneer

Ingredients
  • 1/2 pound paneer
  • Half a bunch bitter melon greens
  • 1 large shallot or half a medium onion, chopped fine
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1-3 serrano chilies, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon red chili powder (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon ghee
Method

Rinse and slice the greens. The finer you slice the greens the better the final result. I ultimately didn’t get it super fine but I did try to ensure no stem was longer than half an inch. Dice the paneer into little blocks about 1/4 inch on each side. Finely chop the shallot, garlic and chilies.

Heat the ghee in a wide pan on medium heat. When it is shimmering, put in the cumin seeds. They will presently sizzle, then in goes the garlic and chilies. Let them get a little shriveled (couple minutes) and put in the onion. The onion only needs to cook until pink and translucent, not browned.

Put in paneer at this point, along with the dry masalas (turmeric powder, red chili powder and salt). Stir to combine. Greens go in next. Toss with paneer and spices. Then don’t need to cook for long. When they look shrunk down and shiny, add about half a cup of hot water, cover and cook on low for just about 4 minutes and you are done.

This goes well with chapatis/rotis or rice.

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End-of-the-week pasta

End-of-the-week pasta

End-of-the-week pasta

Friday night and the fridge is empty. Dinner needs to be made. The kid is hanging around the kitchen wanting to ‘help’, while the husband wants something simple and non-fussy. But good, of course — it has to be good. What to do? What to do?

Tucked away in a corner of the fridge, there is that radicchio left over from that salad I made, and some green garlic I picked up for a forgotten project. And of course there are some indestructibles hidden in the pantry, the dried mushrooms, the sundried tomatoes. The recipe invents itself! It’s time for the: ‘End-of-the-week Pasta’! Otherwise known as the: ‘Kitchen-sink Pasta’, or perhaps the ‘What-is-that?-throw-it-in Pasta’. Or maybe I want to call it the ‘Fresh Linguini with Radicchio and Slivered Almonds in a Porcini and Green Garlic Sauce’. What do you think?

Fresh Linguini with Radicchio and Slivered Almonds in a Porcini and Green Garlic Sauce

Curtain of linguini

Curtain of linguini

This recipe does not demand fresh homemade pasta, but it does politely ask for it. The delicacy of fresh pasta allows you to individually taste the many — um, disparate ingredients. My daughter loves helping with cranking the pasta machine, and loves the curtain of pasta strands that get extruded, so that’s a plus (no homework on Friday evenings, need to keep her busy). For the fresh pasta look here — It’s nice to be kneaded.

I also used cheddar cubes to finish, which formed nice gooey cheesiness around the strands.

A note about salt. I didn’t add any except to the pasta water, because I had the anchovies. If you leave those out, please do add salt to taste.

Here are some pictures to show the process.

Radicchio gets sliced

Radicchio gets sliced

Porcini reconstituting

Porcini reconstituting

Green garlic sliced

Green garlic sliced

Stuff cooking

Stuff cooking

Stuff cooked

Stuff cooked

Radicchio wilting

Radicchio wilting

Cheddar enters

Cheddar enters

Rapidly disappearing

Rapidly disappearing

Linguini with Radicchio and Slivered Almonds in a Porcini and Green Garlic Sauce

Ingredients:
  • Pasta strands from half a portion of pasta dough from this recipe
  • About a third of a bulb of radicchio
  • Big pinch of dried porcini mushrooms, reconstituted in hot water, or fistful of fresh
  • 3 green garlic stems, green and white parts (substitute with few cloves of garlic)
  • 2 – 3 anchovies
  • Big pinch of sundried tomatoes
  • Big pinch of slivered almonds
  • 2 inch block of great cheddar cheese, cubed
  • 1/4 cup good olive oil
Method:

Slice the radicchio, the mushrooms, and the green garlic. Set salted water to boil for cooking the pasta (about 1/2 gallon). While the water is coming to a boil, prepare the sauce. Heat the olive oil in a wide pan on medium. Put in the green garlic and anchovies. The anchovies can be left whole because they will simply merge into the surroundings. When they start to sizzle, put in the sliced porcini, the slivered almonds, and the sundried tomatoes. After a few minutes of cooking these, the radicchio can go in, just to wilt, it doesn’t need to cook long. Cover to keep warm and turn it off to wait for the pasta.

Meanwhile the water will have come to a boil. The pasta will take only a few minutes if you used the fresh ones, otherwise follow directions on the box. Fish the pasta out and put into the prepared sauce with the addition of a few ladles of pasta water. Toss to combine. Put the cubes of cheddar on top and stir that in to melt incompletely. Yes, incompletely.

 

For inspiration on green beans, look east

Green beans with Bengali spices

Green beans with Bengali spices

Bengal is a pretty far away land for me, since I am from the west coast of India, and ancestrally hail from even farther away Sindh. Exotic, I think, is the word I would use. In addition to that, I’m fond of the way Bengali sounds (not intelligible to me), full of rounded vowels; and the things they choose to say, seem old-world and fancy. Then, there is art. Sorry, I meant Art. This is what Bengal is known for above everything else (go google Rabindranath Tagore and Satyajit Ray, just to start). And if you think about it, great art is a lot about judicious choice.

So this is what I want to focus on today. A few  choices, judiciously made.

This dish is a dry sauté of green beans, with a simple tempering of whole spices. For vegetables cooked this way, a few choices you make are very consequential. How you cut the vegetables and how small. If they are small enough the high-heat sauté will be enough to cook them all the way through. If not, a slight steam-braise will be necessary, so cooking on low with the lid on to finish is called for. What fat one uses. Subtle choice, and often not subtle at all; the choice of fat can dramatically alter the dish. How high of heat one uses. High enough it is practically a wok-ish stir-fry. Low enough, and the primary means of cooking is from the steam emanating from the vegetable itself.

Naturally, the spices thrown into the fat to temper is consequential too. This is where the Bengali flair comes in. The famous Bengali spice mix, paanch phoran, consists of five disparate seeds from disparate plant families, that nevertheless come together in oil in an unforgettable partnership. For green beans, I find this to be very congenial and I usually cook them this way.

stuff 026Here is what goes into the paanch phoran, from bottom to top:

Fenugreek seeds: Fenugreek is a legume just like beans and peas. It has a distinctive smell that some have compared to maple syrup and a pleasing bitterness.

Fennel seeds: From the carrot family, fennel seeds are used as a mouth-freshener all over India.

Nigella seeds: Also known as kalonji, these small black droplet-shaped seeds are from the buttercup family. A relative, love-in-a-mist, is grown widely in England as an ornamental, I hear. Their flavor is reminiscent of onions when roasted.

Cumin seeds: Another carrot family member. Cumin has been used as a spice in India since ancient times. Its flavor is earthy and sharp at the same time.

Mustard seeds: Little brown balls with a kick. I have always thought of them as having a biscuity taste, whatever that means.

Bah, one can’t really describe a flavor. Go try it and I won’t need to.

Green beans sauteéd with Bengali spices

I want the green beans to be basically done with the sauté, so I cut them into small pieces, none wider than about a quarter inch. For the fat, I use mustard oil, for more of the Bengali style.

Cutting the green beans into small rounds

Cutting the green beans into small rounds

Look how golden the mustard oil is

Look how golden the mustard oil is

Red chili powder

Red chili powder

Tempering spices

Tempering spices

Throw in the green beans

Throw in the green beans

Cook for 10 minutes, uncovered

Cook for 10 minutes, uncovered

Green beans sauteéd with Bengali spices

Ingredients
  • Half a pound of green beans
  • Half a teaspoon red chili powder, or more according to heat tolerence
  • Quarter teaspoon fenugreek seeds
  • Quarter teaspoon nigella seeds (kalonji)
  • Half teaspoon cumin seeds
  • Half teaspoon fennel seeds
  • Half teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons mustard oil
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar or jaggery
Method

Heat the oil on medium-high in a wide thick-bottomed pan. This is the temperature that the entire dish will be cooked at. Most Bengali recipes recommend letting the oil smoke first, but I hear that is bad for you, and I like the kick of mustard oil and don’t want to quell it, so I don’t let it smoke.

Throw in the spices in the following sequence: first the red chili powder; then the cumin; when it sizzles the nigella and fennel; when they sizzle the mustard seeds; when those pop the fenugreek.

Now in go the green beans. Stir to coat with oil. Let them cook, uncovered, occasionally stirring. Five minutes in, sprinkle in the salt. Ten minutes in, the beans will be mostly done, some charred, most shriveled, and still crunchy.

In this dish, I really like the effect of some sweetness. The sugar goes in towards the end of cooking, and is simply stirred in. Done.

Coconut-yogurty thing from South India

Palladya with rice

Palladya with rice

The other day a friend — Rashmi by name — casually popped in a comment about a ¢#&!Ω# she makes at home, called palladya. Apparently it is similar to the kadhis of the north.

What?! Why have I never heard of this before? Me — a connoisseur of all kadhis everywhere, or so I thought? Why have you kept this secret from me all these years, Rashmi? I thought we were friends. We exchange stories about kids, husbands and various other things. And yet, you kept this from me? Sniff.

Anyway, now that the secret is out, I am glad to have been introduced to this concoction. It is a soupy thing that uses yogurt as a base just like the kadhis of the north, but instead of using chickpea flour for thickening, it uses ground coconut. Floaters are vegetables, a set similar to the ones in this kadhi from Sindh. Some typical ones are okra, white pumpkin/melon (this one), and other squashes. Ever the iconoclast, I used cauliflower; always trying to fit in at the same time, I used baby squashes (this one).

Palladya

This was my first time making it, you can see how it turned out. We had it with rice and it was yummy. Next time I will try to get a finer grind on the coconut by first grating it. And souring the yogurt by leaving it out all day before using it is a tip from Rashmi I didn’t have time to use, but I will next time.

Soaking channa dal, collecting coconut and spices for grinding

Soaking channa dal, collecting coconut and spices for grinding


The grind, should try to get a finer one next time

The grind, should try to get a finer one next time

Cauliflower

Cauliflower

Frozen tinda (apple gourd)

Frozen tinda (apple gourd)

Cuppa yogurt

Cuppa yogurt

Stovetop

Stovetop

Tempering

Tempering

Palladya: kadhi from South India

Ingredients
  • 3 tablespoons channa dal, soaked for half hour in hot water
  • Half a coconut, grated, or 1 cup frozen
  • 3 or more fresh green chilies
  • 1 inch piece of ginger
  • 1 cup yogurt or buttermilk, soured
  • 1 cup cauliflower florets
  • 1 cup summer squash cubed (I used apple gourd/tinda)
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 6 or so curry leaves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1-2 tablespoons sesame oil (substitute with any oil)
Method

Grind the drained channa dal, coconut, chilies and ginger together. You will need to add some water in order to get a fine grind, I ended up adding about half a cup. Do try to grate your coconut before throwing into the blender, that way you are more assured of getting it to turn into a smooth paste.

Put the veggies in a pot combined with the coconut paste, salt and some water. Bring to a boil, covered. In about 20 minutes of cooking at a simmer, covered, the vegetables will be more or less cooked. Poke with a knife to make sure.

If so, whip up the yogurt and add it to the pot. Stir, this only needs to heat through. Now the tempering. Heat the oil in a small, thick-bottomed pan. Throw in the mustard seeds when it shimmers; wait for it to pop. When they pop, throw in the curry leaves. When they look shriveled, turn off, pour the oil and spices into the palladya, and stir.