Man meets bean: falafel results

Falafel

Falafel with chili paste and tzatziki

Let’s say you are a human being who has encountered a bean for the first time. I’m speaking of a bean with a hard shell, the kind that looks more like a pretty rock than anything to do with food. Your mission — find a way to turn it into food. What do you do?

You could boil it, of course. Boil it and boil it and boil it. This will work, and you will get a nice mushy meal.

Or you could keep that bean dry, and grind it into a fine powder. Then, you can use the resulting flour in all kinds of batters and doughs. This works too.

What else? Well, some creative people in the middle east decided on a third route. Soak it overnight, and when it is plumped up, grind it, and fry the resulting mash. This time it will be more like a dough that clumps together, rather than a fine powder, because the beans have drawn in all that water and gotten rather plump and soft with it. The only cooking the notoriously hard-to-cook bean will get is at the end, frying in a pan. Is that foolhardy? No, the soaking did most of the work.

"Il Falafel di Ramallah" by OneArmedMan - Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

“Il Falafel di Ramallah” by OneArmedMan – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Well, well, falafel! That is what a falafel is, and the bean in question is the garbanzo bean (a.k.a. chickpea).

(Cooks in India discovered this trick also, but with a different bean: vadas are made by first soaking the split urad bean overnight and then wet-grinding it after).

Falafel, though, is made out of the whole garbanzo bean, soaked overnight. Parsley, onion and garlic are ground up along with the garbanzo for flavor. The resulting mash is bound with flour, or left as is. Balls made of this mash can be deep-fried or, as I did, patties formed in one’s palms can be shallow-fried. The result — an outside surface that is crunchy and satisfying, while the insides are still pliable and savory to the hilt.

Falafel: street food and mezze

Now you will agree that this is a pretty neat invention. Nifty, even. Tucked inside a pita bread, drenched with chili pastes and salads and strong stuff like onion, it makes a convenient item to eat while holding in one’s hand without ceremony. This is why falafel is known as the king of street food all over the middle east.

San Francisco has its own share of immigrants from all over the world, and of course we have our share of falafel food trucks and hole-in-the-wall restaurants. Some are famous for their hot sauces, others for their pita, and yet others made their name for the pickled or fried vegetables that they tucked into the pita pocket.

Kan Zaman restaurant in SF (source: http://Pakibarbie.blogspot.com)

Erstwhile Kan Zaman restaurant in SF (source: http://Pakibarbie.blogspot.com)

Some serve falafel not as a sandwich or a wrap, but as one of a platter full of appetizers known as mezze. (This word, by the way, comes from the Persian mazze, the root of the Hindi mazza, meaning ‘fun’). One particular restaurant that ran for years near Haight Ashbury — and one that I sorely miss — served their falafel this way, on a giant brass platter with embossed designs, while you lounged on floor cushions and smoked flavored hookahs, and watched a raucous belly dance. Much as I love falafel, that was not the highlight of this particular establishment — it had so many others.

Soaking garbanzo beans and other ingredients

Soaking garbanzo beans and other ingredients

Everything in food processor

Everything in food processor

Ground up mash

Ground up mash

Add some spices

Add some spices

Mixture

Mixture

Pan-fry

Pan-fry

Flipped

Flipped

Stacked up

Stacked up

Served on pita

Served on pita

Falafel

  • Servings: About 10 patties
  • Print
Ingredients:
  • 1 cup dry garbanzo beans (a.k.a. kabuli channa, a.k.a chickpeas), soaked for 8-10 hours
  • 1/2 a medium onion
  • 3 fat cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed parley leaves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika or red chili powder (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon roasted cumin powder (optional)
  • Oil for pan-frying
  • 1-2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (optional)
Method:

Soak the beans overnight in four cups of water. The next day, they will have swelled enough to fill up almost the entire container. Drain and rinse.

Roughly chop the onion and garlic. Rinse, dry, and take tough stems out of the parsley. Put the beans and vegetables into a food processor, but make sure that everything is well-dried — one does not want extra liquid in the mash. Add salt and the optional spices. I needed two batches of processing.

The resulting mash should be able to clump together, and yet, not be dripping with liquid. At this point, you can add a tablespoon or two of dry flour if you like to bind it. I skipped this step.

When you are ready to fry, get a wide, thick-bottomed pan, preferably non-stick, nicely hot. Add oil generously. Spread oil on your hands and form the patties within your palms. You will need about a golf-ball sized amount of mash for one patty.

Lay it flat on the pan. It will sizzle. Press it flat with a spatula. When the underside seems browned (this will take about five minutes on medium-high heat), put a few drops of additional oil on the top (uncooked) surface of each and flip each gently. Another five minutes and you are done.

Alternatively, you can form balls and deep-fry them. You should make doubly sure that the mash is binding well with the added flour if this is your approach.

Have as a side or in a pita with tabouli (recipe forthcoming), chili pastes, and tzatziki (recipe forthcoming)


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I submitted this recipe to the Virtual Vegan Linky Potluck!

‘Tis the season for Cranberry Pickle

Cranberry pickle

Cranberry pickle

‘Tis the season for cranberries at all our local markets. ‘Tis also the season for South Asian Indian expats to feel like complete non-entities, because during Thanksgiving all references to ‘Indians’ in America means native Americans. Pilgrims and Indians, Indian corn pudding, Indian harvest feast, and so on.

You guys know that Columbus didn’t really find us, right? While he was knocking around off the coast of America, letters of introduction to Indian emperors in his pocket, we were about to be overrun by the Mughals. Mr. Columbus was nowhere near. Luckily we fared better with the Mughals than the ‘other’ Indians did with Columbus and his descendants.

In any case, ’tis also the season to not be a curmudgeon, and instead, be thankful; and indeed I am thankful for all the bounty of the American continent. Where would we, the Desi Indians be, without the potato, the tomato, the chili…all first harvested here. Can you imagine Indian cuisine without any of those? And corn — without corn, no makki di roti, sarson da saag? Thank you for opening the floodgates to this bounty, Mr. Columbus. For the food. For the feasts. And more importantly, for not finding us.

Cranberries cut in half

Cranberries cut in half

Cranberries

Now here is an American crop that us Indians should take up, given our fondness for sour foods. The European settlers of America learned about cranberries from the tribes that lived around New England. They were used in a number of ways. As fruit; beaten into cakes with meat; the leaves were used for tea; as a natural dye; as a laxative or for treating injuries and fever. However, cranberries really took off among the Europeans only when cheap sweeteners became available, when the sourness of cranberries could be turned into the sweet-tartness of cranberry sauce and be used as a condiment with meat.

Now I love cranberry sauce, and I am about to make some with wine today. But, I think it is a pity that this is the only way they get eaten. Someday perhaps I will try grinding the berries with some meat, the way the native Americans did. And, cranberry leaf tea, anyone?

Cranberry pickle

The sourness of cranberries means that it comes with its own natural preservative, so putting it in a pickle is a no-brainer. I like the sourness so much that I did not add any sugar. I made this pickle in the classic (‘real’) Indian style, with mustard oil. First, cut them in half and mix in salt and leave in a flat layer to dehydrate and ‘cook’. Next, put in a jar with other spices and cover with oil.

Cranberries with salt and red chili

Cranberries with salt and red chili

Tossed with spices

Tossed with spices

After a week, dehydrated

After a week, dehydrated

Add cracked fenugreek seeds

Add cracked fenugreek seeds

In a jar

In a jar

Cranberry pickle

Ingredients:
  • Half a pound of fresh cranberries
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon (or to taste) red chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon fenugreek seeds
  • 1 cup or more mustard oil
Method:

Make sure the cranberries are completely dry and cut each in half through the equator. Toss them with the salt and chili powder. Lay them out in a glass or other non-reactive tray in a flattish layer, and cover with cheesecloth. If you get sun part of the day, leave them out in the sun. Each day or two, give them a toss with a clean spoon. Over the days the salt will draw out the moisture and the sun and air will dry it. After three to seven days, they will look dehydrated and shriveled as in the picture above.

Break the fenugreek seeds in a mortar and pestle or in a clean coffee grinder. Mix them in with the cranberries. Empty out the cranberries into a clean non-reactive jar. Pour raw mustard oil over them, shaking once in a while in order to remove bubbles, until the oil comes up to the top. Cover and enjoy.

You do not need to refrigerate this. As for how long it will last, well, a few weeks certainly, but if they go bad I will update this post.


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A chutney made from Hibiscus leaves

Hibiscus chutney (gongura pachadi)

Hibiscus chutney (gongura pachadi)

If you are at the market and someone tries to sell you what they call ‘sorrel’ leaves, stop and give them the eye. Because you see, sorrel just means ‘sour’ and it does not tell you what kind of sour leaf this is. A few widely disparate plants all get called by this name, so all you know when someone tries to sell you sorrel, is that it is a plant that produces at least one edible part, and those edible parts produce so much acid that it tastes sour to us.

Hibiscus sabdariffa leaves

Hibiscus sabdariffa leaves

The sorrel that I am talking about today is Hibiscus sabdariffa, with the lovely maple-shaped leaves pictured above. It is known by many other names aside from sorrel. It is commonly known as roselle because of the lovely pinkish-magenta of its stems and flower buds. It is gongura in the state of Andhra Pradesh in India where it is a part of many beloved homey dishes. Meshta when it is grown for jute fiber in the north of India. ‘The flower of Jamaica’ in Mexico where the sepals are steeped into a tea. Such herbal teas, or tisanes, are made all over the tropical world from the sepals of this plant.

(Sepals or the calyx are the petals’ baby sisters — they are the row of sometimes leafy, usually unexciting petal-like things that grow on the outside of the flower, under the petals. Most flowers have them, and children usually render them in green when they draw their cartoon flowers.)

Calyx of roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa)

Calyx of roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa)

Hibiscus sabdariffa has gorgeous deep magenta arching sepals. The flower with its pink papery petals is even more beautiful, of course. The same magenta color is found in the edges and the veins of the leaves, making this a particularly attractive plant to grow, to look at, and to buy at the market. It decorated my kitchen for the few days that it sat on the counter after I brought it home. Almost seemed like a pity to mash it down into a grim-looking (but delicious!) chutney.

Gongura Pachadi (Hibiscus chutney)

Let me tell you a bit about this chutney. Made from the leaves, it needs no added souring agent (that would usually help preserve it) because the leaves themselves are very sour. I did not grow up in Andhra Pradesh but in that state, this chutney is almost part of the state religion and woven into daily customs.

Now you might think, leaves, yes, grind them in a blender and you are done. But wait. There is a technique to it. First, you dry them completely on sheets of paper towel. Then they roast a bit, dry. Then they sauté and shrivel in a bit of oil. Then you grind it up. The point is to remove all moisture from the leaves, which will help preserve it better.

The taste is wonderfully sour, a bit metallic (maybe from the iron?), and complex. You can mix it with rice or spread it on a slice of bread, then top it with sliced vegetables, as I did.

Dry-roasting

Dry-roasting in batches

Completely dry

Completely dry

Saute with oil

Saute with oil

Dry-roast spices

Dry-roast spices

All destined for blender

All destined for blender

Blending

Blending

Labeled

Labeled

Hibiscus chutney

Ingredients:
  • Leaves from a big bunch of roselle
  • 1 tablespoon sesame, coconut or other oil + more for blending
  • A tablespoon of sliced shallot or onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Half inch piece of ginger
  • 3 dry red chilies, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • Half teaspoon fenugreek seeds
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
Method:

Make sure the leaves are completely dry after rinsing. You can do this by spreading them out on sheets of napkins for an hour or so. Dry-roast the plucked leaves in a flat pan in batches. You do not want them to steam, just quickly dry up and darken as they roast. Once all the leaves are dried and roasted in this manner, return them to the pan with a bit of oil to sauté. Remove them to a plate.

Meanwhile roast the dry spices (mustard, fenugreek, red chili) until darkened. Let them cool a few minutes then give them a whirl in the spice grinder to get a powder. Peel and roughly chop the garlic, ginger and shallot. Throw them into the blender along with the salt, the leaves, and the dry spices. The blender will probably need some liquid to make the blades go; for this, add some more of the oil, rather than allow any water to come near.

Save in a jar and label it so you don’t forget to eat it!


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Is it a wrap? A donkey? No–it’s a superbaby…burrito!

Made-from-scratch burrito

Made-from-scratch burrito

When I was new to California, Indian friends who had arrived before me told me eagerly about the exciting new cuisines they had sampled around the Bay Area. It became a bit of a parlor game to find the cuisine ‘most like Indian food’ — which meant, in practice, the most highly flavored with spices. People mentioned Thai food and Ethiopian food as contenders. One strong contender that kept coming up was the Mexican burrito.

Of course, I was told about it from an Indian point of view. Imagine this, friends told me, rice and dal wrapped inside a roti! What could be better! The ‘dal’ in question was refried beans and the ‘roti’ was a tortilla. My friends were talking about the Mission Burrito (=’little donkey’), a fat wrap invented in San Francisco from Mexican ingredients, a cheap and healthful all-in-one meal.

The Mission Burrito is meant to be customized. You stand at the counter while your food server moves through an assembly line with a tortilla laid flat in front of her. You can choose or decline each ingredient. Rice is in. You choose your meat, or none. You choose your beans. I quickly learned that I preferred black beans to refried or whole pinto beans. Shredded iceberg lettuce and cheese are usually turned down by me, but are a yes for most.

Fresno chilies growing in my yard

Fresno chilies growing in my yard

Then, if you didn’t forget to use the keyword ‘super’ you get the big payoff. The supremacy of the super burrito lies in having all kinds of blandishments added to it — salsa, guacamole, sour cream, hot sauces, heaps of onion and cilantro. For a recent immigrant from India (me, then) — the word ‘super’ meant ‘chutneys’. Fantastic. Then the tortilla is folded into a roll, tucked in at each end, and wrapped in double layers of foil. It can be eaten on the go, with no forks, plates, even napkins around.

People know Silicon Valley for its technical innovations, but its burrito innovations are not far behind. Some places are famous for offering beef brain and beef tongue in the choice of meats. Some offer vegetables grilled on the spot. Many have adopted whole-wheat, spinach or tomato tortillas. One of my favorite taquerías offers cooked cactus (nopales) upon request. A ‘naked’ burrito is served in a bowl, without a tortilla wrapped around it. A ‘baby’ burrito is a smaller sized tortilla, suitable for lunch for a smaller-sized person.

But here’s the other thing about the Bay Area…we must make this at home, from scratch! So here we go.
IMG_3051

Whole-wheat vegan superbaby burrito

For the tortilla I just made an Indian-style whole-wheat roti/chapati that added a nice wheaty complexity to each bite. They were smaller than the regular tortilla size, making this a ‘baby’ burrito. I bought dry black beans and soaked them overnight, then pressure-cooked them for 15 minutes to have the most luscious, earthy, non-metallic tasting black beans ever. The rice was cooked using the liquid drained from the tomatoes. The hot sauce came from this recipe for Mexican hot sauce. For the guacamole I used a nice large Californian Hass avocado. Cilantro and Fresno chilies from my garden. A mix of green zebra and early-girl tomatoes for the salsa. I made it vegan but my husband added some cheddar cheese. You could add sour cream or thick homemade yogurt, whisked.

Yes, it certainly had some Indian flavors….

Black beans soaking

Black beans soaking

Black beans cooked

Black beans cooked

Black beans

Ingredients:
  • 1/4 dry black beans
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt or to taste
Method:

Soak the black beans over night or for about 6 hours. If you are short on time, soak them in near-boiling water for an hour. Drain and pressure-cook for 15 minutes with 1/2 cup water. Add the salt after it is done cooking.

Tomatoes for salsa fresca

Tomatoes for salsa fresca

Tomatoes draining

Tomatoes draining

Onion, chili, cilantro

Onion, chili, cilantro

Salsa Fresca

Ingredients:
  • 4 small tomatoes or 2 medium
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped onion
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped hot green chili
  • 1 tablespoon finely minced cilantro
  • Lime juice from half a lime
  • Salt to taste
Method:

Dice the tomatoes and place them in a strainer with some salt mixed in, and allow to drain for half an hour or so. Collect the drained liquid in a bowl, this will be used later for the rice to add a subtle tomato-ness. Meanwhile finely chopped the onion, chili and cilantro. Once the tomatoes seem to be done draining liquid, mix it in with the onion, chili and cilantro. Add lime juice, mix, taste, and adjust for salt.

Beautiful Hass avocado

Beautiful Hass avocado

Garlic, chili, cilantro

Garlic, chili, cilantro

Guacamole

Ingredients:
  • One large avocado
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tablespoon cilantro, minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced chili
  • Juice of half a lime
  • Salt to taste
Method:

Finely mince the garlic, add some salt to it and leave it mixed with salt for about 10 minutes. In this much time it will have turned pasty and ‘cooked’ a little. Cube the avocado flesh, mix it all together with lime juice. You can mash the avocado if you like but I like to leave little chunks.

Rice in pot

Rice in pot

Done

Done

Mexican rice

Ingredients:
  • 1/3 cup rice
  • 2/3 cup water including the liquid drained from tomato
  • 1/4 onion, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin powder
  • 1/2 tablespoon oil
  • Salt to taste
Method:

Heat the oil in a thick-bottomed pot. When it shimmers put in the minced onion, the cumin and paprika. Let them cook a few minutes on medium heat. Now in goes the rice. Stir to coat with oil. Next put in the water (including tomato liquid) and salt. Cover, bring to a boil, then simmer for 7 minutes. Turn off the flame and let it rest, covered, for a few minutes before opening the lid.

IMG_3054 IMG_3055 IMG_3057IMG_3063

Assembling the burrito

Ingredients:
  • 1 whole-wheat chapati/roti/tortilla
  • Some cheddar cheese, cubed (leave it out if you want it vegan)
  • Some rice
  • Some black beans
  • Some guacamole
  • Some salsa verde
  • Some hot sauce
Method:

I’ve left the amounts vague because you can customize each the way you want to. Layer the ingredients onto the roti laid out flat. Don’t overstuff it if you want a nice roll that you can bind securely. Fold in the two lateral edges to hold the fillings in place, then roll up the entire burrito starting at the bottom. Enjoy.

Found the Vegan Potluck folks who host a wonderful weekly vegan bash! That’s almost poetic. Entering this recipe there. 
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Idiot-proof vegetable pulao

Vegetable pulav with tomato soup

Vegetable pulao with tomato soup

One of the first dishes I ever tried cooking on my own was flavored rice cooked with a few vegetables. This is known as a vegetable pulao — or pilaf — or pulav, the standard-est and basic-est of Indian home recipes. So why has it taken me this long to blog about it?

Because sometimes the simplest things give you the most trouble. It has taken me years for me to get this right. Sometimes the rice isn’t cooked through. If it is, it is cooked too much. Or the vegetables are cut too big and raw on the inside, or they have turned to mush. If all goes right regarding the timing, the thing is tasteless. Gah.

One way to get around these problems is to cook the rice and vegetables separately then combine them. But while there are many perfectly fine recipes that rely on this method (many from the south — yogurt rice, lemon rice, tomato rice etc.), for vegetable pulao, the flavors must fuse, which means cooking together is a must. They must come out with a flourish, all perfectly done at the same time. They say each grain of rice must be separate, so add that to the list of requirements. It must be gently spiced, but not too much — too much would kick it over into being a biryani. That’s fine, but that’s not what we are after.

So now, finally, I present to you my pulao secrets, recently discovered after many years of trial and error, which should make all doubts vanish under the first whiff aroma that hits you when you open the pot. Here they are.

Secrets of pulao

  1. Be stingy with the water. The vegetables you add will leave off some steam of their own, so I would use about a quarter less water than you would with plain rice.

  2. But if you do that, the danger is that the rice will cook and expand and rise above the water line, leaving the upper layer uncooked. Curses! To get around this problem, we use a pressure cooker. (I believe a tightly closed dutch oven slow-cooked in an oven would work as well, but that is not what I did.)

  3. Do not use vegetables that will turn to mush, like tomatoes or zucchini. The vegetables that you do use must be diced. I use vegetables like green beans, carrots, peas, cauliflower, cabbage, bell peppers, celery, etc.

  4. Rice tends to be a bit bland, so you need to fire on all cylinders where the aromatics are concerned. So that means — garlic, ginger, green chilies, onion, and yogurt for richness.

  5. Now this is the most important — do not caramelize the onions! Cook them till softened, but not browned. A lower flame would help. This is because what we are after is a savory flavor, not a sweet caramel browned flavor (there are other excellent rice dishes that explore this profile, we will go into that at some point).

Armed with these tenets we are ready to begin.

Rice soaking and vegetables diced

Rice soaking and vegetables diced

Ginger garlic chili paste with yogurt

Ginger garlic chili paste with yogurt

Onion cooking with bay leaf and cardamom

Onion cooking with bay leaf and cardamom

Paste enters

Paste enters

Paste drying up

Paste drying up

Vegetables enter

Vegetables enter

Rice enters

Rice enters

Done

Done

Vegetable Pulao

Ingredients
  • 1 cup long-grained rice
  • 1.25 cup water
  • 4 cups diced vegetables, mix of carrots, peas, beans, cauliflower (cut slightly larger, because it has the tendency to turn to mush if overcooked), bell pepper, celery, potatoes
  • 1 black cardamom
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/3 cup diced onion (this will be about half a medium onion)
  • 3-4 cloves garlic
  • 1 inch piece ginger
  • 1-3 fresh green chilies
  • 1/4 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons oil
Method

Rinse and soak the rice for about half hour. Dice the vegetables — those that cook quickly (like cauliflower) can be left larger, those that cook slowly (like carrot) can be cut smaller. Blend the yogurt along with ginger, garlic and chilies to make a paste.

Heat oil in the pressure cooker or dutch oven on medium heat. When it shimmers, put in the cardamom and bay leaf. Let them cook until an aroma arises. Then put in the onion. It can cook for a few minutes until softened. Now put in the paste and stir to combine with the oil. In about five minutes of cooking, the paste will have dried up and the oil will show separating from the paste.

Now you can put the vegetables in, and simply toss them around to mix with the oil. Drain the rice and add that in as well, and stir to coat the rice with the oil and spices. Now put in the water and salt, and pressure cook for 15 minutes. If you are using a dutch oven, cover it tightly and cook it in the oven for about 20 minutes at 250ºF.

Let it sit covered for a few minutes after taking it off the heat. Before serving, fluff it up lightly with a fork.


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My slimy old pal, stuffed

Stuffed okra

Stuffed

Here is a riddle for all you wonderful folks. Two cousins. One is hairy, one is slimy. I have talked about the hairy one quite a bit recently. The slimy one doesn’t get much love because many people object to its sliminess. Fear not! There are many ways to make it unobjectionable.

Here is the hairy one. And here is the slimy one. Both from the mallow family.
Cousins

OK I have dragged this one out enough. Of course, the hairy one is cotton. But the slimy one is the subject of today’s recipe — okra. The slime is a form of soluble fiber that has many benefits, from slowing absorption of glucose (diabetics take note) to capturing toxic bile and helping with constipation.

Now okra is often not popular. When I mentioned to my husband that okra and cotton were from the same plant family, he said, ‘no wonder okra tastes like cotton’. Funny guy.

But here’s the thing. You can do one of several things. You can use okra in recipes that absolutely thrive on its sliminess and use it to give cohesion to soups and stews. Like gumbo. Or, you can fry and crisp it up. Once you do that, no one would guess at the great gobs of sticky runny goo that normally erupts out of okra pods.

Or, you could do this.

Okra stuffed with spices (Bharela bhindi)

For this dish, the okra pods are left whole. A slit is made along the length of the pod with a paring knife, taking care to leave a pocket, not bust through to the other side. Stuff the pocket full of spices. Fry it. This process seems to dissolve the sliminess as well and makes it a delicious meal with some roti or rice and dal on the side.

While picking okra one has to be careful to pick the very young pods, where the ribs have not turned fibrous and woody (once that happens, there is no going back, and you will not enjoy eating them). A gentle squeeze while selecting them at the market will tell you if the pods are still young. The pods I found at the farmers market are from a variety that has been bred to have minimal ribs, and can be left on the plant longer without risk of turning woody. Nevertheless, I did find one or two that had, and I discarded them.

Pound of okra pods

Pound of okra pods

Whole spices

Whole spices

Roasting spices

Roasting spices

All spices mixed in a bowl

All spices mixed in a bowl

Pocket

Pocket

Stuffing the pocket

Stuffing the pocket

Stuffed and ready to go

Stuffed and ready to go

Frying

Frying

Add onion

Add onion

Done

Done

Stuffed okra/bharela bhindi

Ingredients for the spice mix:
  • 2 teaspoons whole coriander
  • 2 teaspoons whole cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole fenugreek seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole fennel seeds
  • 2 whole red chilies, more if you like
  • 1 teaspoon dry mango powder (aamchur)
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon asafetida
  • 1/2 teaspoon red chili (if you want more heat) or paprika (for color and flavor)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
Ingredients for okra
  • 1 pound okra pods
  • 3 tablespoons oil
  • 1/4 onion, sliced (optional)
Method

Roast the whole spices from coriander to red chilies in a thick-bottomed pan, just until an aroma arises. Take it off the heat, wait a few minutes for them to cool and grind in a clean coffee grinder. Now mix in the powdered spices from the dry mango powder to the salt.

Wash and completely dry the okra. Take off the very top, the hat that looks like a beanie where the okra is attached to the stem. Using a sharp paring knife, make a slit along the length of the pod, stopping a little short on both ends, to make a pocket. Fill each okra with the spice mixture. A small spoon is very helpful for this. Then using your fingertips, spread spices nicely inside the pocket.

Once all the okra pods have been stuffed, heat the oil in a wide, thick-bottomed pan. When it shimmers, lay the okra pods flat in a single layer. Let them cook on medium-high heat for 10 to 15 minutes until each side is browned. Once in a while give them a turn with tongs or a spoon. Mostly just leave them be.

When they look pretty much browned, squished and done, throw in the onions. The onions only need to cook for a minute or two, the hot pan will soften them quickly. They do not need to brown. Turn off and cover the pan for a few minutes to allow the steam to finish the job.


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Yellow mung dal with mangosteen

Moong dal served with radish cucumber salad

Moong dal served with radish cucumber salad

People have been eating locally long before it became a ‘thing’ and got its own hashtag. Thousands of years back essentially everyone was a locavore. All food was made out of plants that grew in the backyard fields or roots and shoots gathered from nearby forests. And sometimes a couple of these backyard ingredients came together in recipes that have remained classics.

I like to think of it has the boy-next-door and the girl-next-door getting married. How can a dish like that not be comfort food!

One such ingredient from the West coast of India is mung bean. There is more information about it here. This recipe calls for the split, dehusked form.

The other locally grown ingredient from the same region is the Indian mangosteen fruit. It grows mostly wild around the wet evergreen forests. The website Aayi’s recipes focuses on recipes from the Konkan coast and has great information (and pictures!) about it here. I have to admit that unlike that author, I did not grow up lobbing fresh mangosteen fruit at my brother. In fact I have never seen a fresh one, as far as I know. I had a city upbringing, and we obtained the dried and blackened rinds of the fruit in a bag. This is how it is used in this and in most other recipes.

kokum

Dried rind of Indian mangosteen, kokum

I can only imagine the sizzle and joy when these two ingredients first came together in a pot. Moong dal cooks into a creamy yellow pulpy thing, and the added rind of mangosteen (kokum) adds a very subtle sourness in a way that cannot be replaced by lemon or other souring agent. This dish is made more liquid to go with rice. There are no sharp flavors here — it is pure comfort food. When I was a child I enjoyed making it more bland by mixing it with some plain yogurt.

Some pictures to show the process.

Soaked and drained moong dal, turmeric, kokum together in a pot

Soaked and drained dal, turmeric, kokum together in a pot

Herbs for moong dal, prepared

Herbs for moong dal, prepared

Moong dal, cooked

Moong dal, cooked

Herbs, sizzling

Herbs, sizzling

Moong dal all done

Moong dal all done

Moong dal with kokum

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Ingredients:
  • 3/4 cup dehusked and split yellow moong dal
  • 5 or 6 pieces of dried rind of mangosteen fruit (kokum)
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1-4 fresh green chilies (I used serrano)
  • 4-5 large cloves of garlic
  • 5-6 curry leaves, if you don’t have them leave them out
  • 3/4 teaspoon mustard seeds (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
Method:

Rinse the dal in several changes of fresh water, running your fingers through to free up the loose starchy powder, until the water runs somewhat clear.

Put it in a pot along with the turmeric and the kokum and three cups of water. Bring it to a boil, then let it simmer for about an hour, partially covered. Or, you can use a pressure cooker, cooking under pressure for 15 minutes.

Once the dal is cooked down to being completely mashable, whisk the liquid to make it creamy. Add salt and turn it off, covered.

At this point, let’s start the tempering. Slice the garlic and the chilies. Just for the fancies, I sliced one of my chilies and simply vertically halved the other. Heat the oil in a small thick-bottomed pan. When it shimmers, put in the mustard seeds. They will presently pop. The rest of the fresh herbs, chilies, garlic, curry leaves go in. They will sizzle and cook. When done, turn off, pour the oil over the dal, and stir it in nicely.

Cilantro for garnish if you like. This goes well with white rice, with some salad or relish of fried stuff alongside.

All about dals in one place

Apologies to anyone who might be expecting a fun and interesting new post about kitchen antics from me…instead what I have to offer today is a dry, pedantic review of some dals. I updated my page about dals, and I plan to keep adding to it with other dals I have not yet covered, and of course adding links to more dal recipes. This page is meant to be a one-stop-shop for all dal-related information on The Odd Pantry. Dull, yes, but someone has to do it.

Check it out

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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.

Salad porn

Porn = things that excite you to look at but you can’t touch. That’s what I have for you today, Dear Reader. Not much of a recipe, just pictures of a salad we made for dinner that came out particularly colorful. Lettuce is conspicuous in its absence. In it are bitter radicchio and frisée, cherry tomatoes, blanched green beans, carrots cut into sticks, and avcado.

san bruno 002

Dressed simply with a sprinkle of salt, toss, pours of olive oil, toss, and squirts of balsamic vinegar, toss. It went quick…

san bruno 004