September 30, 2008

Clam curry, Two ways (Goan Red Clam Curry and Spicy Coconut-Lime Clam Curry)

Success with clams! Finally. The few times I ate clams before, they were sandy or rubbery or both. I decided I would give them one final try. So, after 5lb bag of littleneck clams and two clam curries later, I am happy to say that I will be making them again.

Madhur Jaffrey's Goan Clam curry tastes like a tart and hot tamarind stew (pulusu). The Coconut lime curry seems like an Indianized version of tom yum soup. Both are delicious and comforting.

Goan Red Clam curry
900g or 2lbs of small clams
3 tbsp corn or peanut oil
210g red onions, peeled and finely chopped
1 tbsp very finely grated, peeled fresh ginger
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 tsp cayenne pepper (or any hot chili powder)
1 tbsp bright red paprika (or kashmiri chili powder)
½ tsp ground turmeric
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
thick tamarind paste - to taste
½ tsp salt
300 ml coconut milk, well shaken

Pour the oil into a large, wide, lidded pan, and set over a medium heat. When the oil is hot, put in the red onions. Stir and fry for about 5 minutes or until the onions are translucent, turning down the heat as needed. Add the ginger and garlic. Stir for a minute. Now put in the cayenne pepper, paprika, turmeric, cumin and coriander. Stir for 10 seconds.
Add 500ml water, the tamarind, salt and coconut milk. Stir and bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer gently for a few minutes. Add the clams and return to a simmer. Cover and simmer for about 7 minutes or until the clams open up. Serve hot with rice.

Coconut Lime Curry
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
5 large shallots, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped peeled fresh ginger
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 pounds littleneck clams, scrubbed
1 1/2 cups bottled clam juice
1 cup canned unsweetened coconut milk
1 cup diced canned tomatoes with juices
1 jalapeño chile, seeded, chopped
1 teaspoon grated lime peel
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 green onions, sliced

Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add chopped shallots and sauté until tender, about 3 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon ginger, 1 teaspoon turmeric and 1/4 teaspoon cumin and stir 1 minute. Add clams, clam juice, coconut milk, tomatoes with their juices, jalapeño and lime peel and bring to boil. Cover and cook until clams open, about 7 minutes (discard any that do not open). Stir in lime juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer clams and sauce to bowl; sprinkle with green onions and serve with crusty bread.

Tips for cooking with clams:
  • Buy, store and prepare clams with care.
  • To rid the clams of sand and grit, wash them well and soak them in cold salted water for at least 30 minutes.
  • Fish out the clams as they open up in the cooking pot so that they don't turn rubbery.

March 17, 2008

Fennel and Orange Salad

Raw fennel is crunchy like celery but has a sweet licorice flavor. This dish is Sicilian in origin and has the sweet exotic flavors that are typical of the local cooking (or so my cookbook Italian Cooking for Dummies says:).

This is a refreshing citrussy salad. You can find instructions on how to section an orange here. It important to peel the segments (and not just use the segments with the skin on) so that the orange juice from the segments can mingle with the rest of the ingredients.

Fennel and Orange Salad
1 large fennel bulb, stems discarded, bulbs halved, cored and thinly sliced
3 oranges, peeled and sectioned
2T olive oil
2t white wine or apple cider vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
1T chopped parsley (optional)
8-12 leaves lettuce to serve (optional)

In a bowl, combine all the ingredients (except the lettuce) and let the mixture marinate for an hour.
Serve salad over lettuce leaves and garnish with fennel fronds.

March 9, 2008

Seeni Sambol - a Caramelized Onion Side

Seeni sambol is a caramelized onion relish from Sri Lanka. It is used both as a condiment and as a side dish. The traditional accompaniment to this is a thin flat bread called Rotti, but it can be served with any store bought bread of your choice for a light lunch or a snack. Seeni means sugar in Tamil and sambol is the generic term for a spicy condiment. This dish is mildly sweet from the sugar, but has a good deal of heat from the chilli powder and spices.

There are two specialty ingredients in this recipe. Although both are optional, one of them is definitely worth a try. The first is Pandanus or Screwpine leaves (called Rampe in Sri Lanka). This leaf is used a lot in Thai, Malaysian and Indonesian sweet and savory dishes. It has a strong aroma - very reminiscent of fragrant Basmati and Jasmine rice. Cook once with it and it becomes obvious why it is added to the pot of cooking rice in these regions. It certainly changes my mood - I want to use it just to smell that amazing aroma in my home. It's most definitely worth a try just for that! I didn't know that the flowers of the screwpine are used to make Kewra water, a fragrant water used most frequently in desserts in India. The leaves are available frozen and sometimes fresh in Asian grocery stores.

The other specialty ingredient is a dried tuna fish - called Maldive fish. My guess is it lends a certain roundness to the dish.

Although umami is only a bit player in Japanese cuisine, reams of breathless prose have been produced here on this elusive fifth taste, which is supposedly linked to the profoundly pure, deep-sea flavors of kelp and dried tuna. (Source)
The strong fishy smell deterred me from using more than a minuscule amount, but I believe most of its fishiness cooks away when treated properly (like anchovies). Vegetarian can omit it completely. Good substitutes would be fish sauce or dried shrimp paste.

The trick to caramelized onions in any recipe, not just this one, seems to be to start them in a hot heavy bottomed skillet with a generous pinch of salt to get them going. After the onions start to turn color, turn the heat to medium low and cover partially to retain moisture if need. The onions should be plump and juicy when done, so we don't want too much moisture loss in the cooking process. When done, deglaze the bottom of the pan with a few teaspoons of water to get the good stuff off the bottom of the pan.

Seeni Sambol
3 large red onions peeled and sliced into half moons
1 tbs maldive Fish

1 inch ginger root, crushed

2-4 cloves garlic, crushed

1-2 tbs crushed red chilies

3 cardamoms

4 cloves

1 small sprig curry leaves

1-2 pieces pandan leaves (optional)

1 piece lemongrass, cracked well with the back of the knife(optional)
1 piece cinnamon
Salt to taste

1 tsp tamarind paste

1 tbs brown sugar

2 tbs vegetable oil

1. Mix the first 12 ingredients well.
2. Heat the oil in a cast iron skillet and add the mixed onions. Stir occasionally.
3. When the onions start turning color, turn down the heat. Keep stirring occasionally. Cover the skillet if need. 4. When the onions are almost caramelized, add the tamarind paste and brown sugar and cook until the tamarind is no longer raw.
5. Taste and adjust salt if required.

March 2, 2008

Chinese Winter Melon Soup

On a recent trip to the Asian grocery store, I picked up a slice of winter melon and dried wood ear mushrooms. A friend suggested that I make a soup out of it, so I adapted this recipe and found that I really liked this simple soup. The melon and wood ear mushrooms are both mild tasting, but lend so much flavor to the soup. A good quality stock really makes the soup shine. I used a store bought stock with good results. Dried shiitake mushrooms or any other dried mushrooms would work just as well in place of the wood ear mushrooms.

While writing up this post, I found out that winter melon is not uncommon in India (Hindi: petha, pethakaddu, Tamil: neer poosanikai, Bengali: Chal kumra, Malayalam: kumbalanga, Telugu: booDida Gummadikaaya, Kannada: boodagumbala). Now that I know it is used in Indian recipes, I have to give some of those a try sometime. This is my entry for Weekend herb blogging hosted this week by Anna from Morsels and Musings.

(This picture is reproduced with permission from Marc at Mental Masala)

Chinese Winter Melon Soup
2-3 cup winter melon (1/2 pound)
Water to boil winter melon
2-3 cups chicken broth
handful chinese dried black mushrooms
5-6 slices ginger
1/4 cup cooked ham, diced (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 green onion, green part only, washed and cut on the diagonal into 1-inch pieces
a handful of cilantro to garnish

1. Wash the winter melon, remove the green skin, seeds, and the pulp. Cut into 2-inch pieces. (Peel the skin thickly as the melon closer to the skin will be harder)
2. Reconstitute the Chinese dried mushrooms by soaking in hot water for 20 - 30 minutes until softened. Drain and rinse.
3. Place the winter melon in a pot of water, bring to a boil, and simmer for approximately 15 minutes.
4. Add the mushrooms, ginger and cooked ham. Add seasonings as desired. Simmer for about 20 minutes more or until the winter melon is translucent and tender. Add green onion and cilantro for garnish. Serve hot.

March 1, 2008

A Meme

Coco over at Ambrosia tagged me for a meme. So without much ado, here goes!

1. I loved oysters from the first time I tasted them. They have to be the food of the Gods.

2. Food and cooking are fairly recent passions - I have only gotten into it as a serious hobby in the past 5 years or so.

3. For a long time, I never thought I would get into making desserts. My focus used to be the main meal or appetizers - but I wouldn't touch desserts with a 10 foot pole. I figured they were just too unhealthy - and I never had a sweet tooth anyway. Then - one day (recently) I tasted a homemade dessert - and haven't been able to stop since.

4. I like photography - and hope to take interesting pictures someday. I'd like my pictures to convey a mood, or to simply have the observer intrigued.

5. Memes make me a little nervous. It's the part where I have to tag 5 other people that bothers me... So if you would like to be tagged, let me know!

Here are the rules for the Meme..
1. Link to your tagger and post these rules.
2. Share 5 facts about yourself.
3. Tag 5 people at the end of your post and list their names (linking to them)
4. Let them know they've been tagged by leaving a comment at their blogs.

February 25, 2008

Lemon Creme Brûlée with Fresh Berries

I was searching for a different Creme Brûlée recipe for a dessert potluck party when I found this one from Bon Appétit. I was immediately interested - lemon zest flavoring a creamy custard sounded so refreshing. And it had great reviews from many people.

I decided to scale the recipe for about five people - that way I could use up that pint of cream. The only mistake I made was using too little lemon zest. I zested the only 2 small organic lemons I had (about 1 1/2 teaspoons) - the zest of three or maybe even four small lemons would have been better. I know - that seems like a lot of lemon zest - and it will even smell like a lot when you are infusing the cream. But the recipe needs it - the reviewers were right. I'm going to try to get my hands on some lemon oil for the next time around - if it comes with recommendations from David Lebovitz, it must be worth it. I would also omit the vanilla completely. I find that the vanilla completely masks the delicate flavors of the lemon - and that's the point of the whole recipe.

This is my contribution to this month's Jihva for Ingredients, lemons & limes, hosted by Coffee over at The Spice Cafe.

Lemon Creme Brûlée
Servings: 5 to 6

For Custard
2 cups whipping cream
1/2 cup sugar
3-4 teaspoons grated lemon peel
1/8 teaspoon salt
5 large egg yolks

For Crème Brûlée
4 tablespoons sugar (regular white granulated sugar works best - I found brown sugar tends to burn before it caramelizes)
Fresh berries
1/8 cup (or less to taste) Chambord (black-raspberry liqueur) or crème de cassis (black-currant liqueur)

Preheat oven to 325°F. Arrange 5 or 6 ramekins in 13x9x2-inch metal baking pan. Combine cream and lemon peel in heavy small saucepan and bring to simmer. Whisk sugar and yolks in large bowl until thick, about 3 minutes. Gradually whisk in hot cream mixture, then add salt. Let stand 10 minutes. Strain custard, then divide among cups. Pour enough hot water into baking pan to come halfway up sides of cups.

Bake custards until just set in center, about 30-35 minutes. Remove custards from water bath; chill uncovered until firm, at least 3 hours. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and keep refrigerated.)

Just before serving, top each ramekin with about a tablespoon of sugar dividing equally. Broil or torch until sugar melts and browns, about 2 minutes. Chill until topping is hard and crisp, at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours.

Combine raspberries and liqueur in bowl. Let stand at room temperature at least 15 minutes and up to 1 hour. Spoon berry mixture atop custards.

Key points for making Creme Brûlée:

(For all the following, the reference is Harold Mcgee's epic 'On Food and Cooking')

  • The custards needs to cook in a narrow range from 175-185°F; exceeding this range by 5 or 10°F can cause the custards to become grainy. Cook the custards in a thin metal baking pan in a water bath. The water bath keeps the oven heat in check so the custards cook gently. (Water can't exceed 212F, and evaporative cooling keeps the water temperature lower at 180°F in a metal pan) A glass baking pan will retain more heat than a metal one (185°F)and reduces your margin of error somewhat.
  • Don't omit the salt - it's plays a key role in the custard formation.
  • This dessert is all about the texture, so it's necessary to strain the mixture before baking. Don't bother adding fresh berries or fruit into the custard - there will be pockets of liquid in the finished dish from the fruit. Pre-cooking and using some flour/cornstarch may help reduce that - but why spoil the texture?
  • Only cook the custards till the center jiggles slightly. They will finish cooking outside the oven.
  • A propane torch is invaluable for making the caramel topping. The caramel should be hard enough to shatter when rapped with a spoon. You should hear a satisfying crunch when it's cracked. If you don't hear that on your first trial ramekin, add more sugar, caramelize and refrigerate uncovered for a few minutes.
  • If using a broiler, chilled custards are particularly important so that the custards won't start cooking again. An ice bath would help too.
  • Scalding the cream is not strictly necessary - in this recipe its needed for the infusing the lemon peel. But it can be skipped if using lemon oil or other extracts. The custards will take a bit longer to set in the oven, but the recipe will work just fine otherwise.
  • Meeta provides more useful tips and tricks for making Creme Brulee, invaluable for first attempts.

February 17, 2008

Pots De Crème and other experiments...

Pots De Crème

After reading about how much Molly at Orangette liked a Pots De Crème recipe from an old issue of Gourmet magazine, I just had to give it a try. The recipe called for muscovado and demerara sugar - I couldn't find them at a couple of local supermarkets, so I went ahead and used brown sugar instead. Delicious. The custard seems similar to that for a Crème Brûlée. I tasted a bite after the ramekins had cooled to room temperature - and found I could not stop. These desserts can disappear in a jiffy. They are smooth and silky, and even though I had only used brown sugar, had some complexity in the sweetness. Since the recipe is so basic, just cream, eggs and sugar, every ingredient needs to shine. I can see why bothering to find quality ingredients and the specialty sugar can be worthwhile.

Green Mango Rice

I crave green mangoes every now and then. (Its also been years since I ate sweet luscious Alphonso mangoes, but lets not go there now). This stir fried Green Mango Rice is a keeper - coconut, green chillies, cilantro and mangoes play along nicely in this recipe. A different version of the classic sour rice preparations from South India, like lime rice and tamarind rice.

Appey Pancakes - Savory vegetable pancakes

I was looking for a quick and light meal - Appey made with rava and yogurt fit the bill. I added shredded carrots to my version for some extra nutrition. I didn't have the specialty pan to make these, so mine look more like savory vegetable pancakes. These would make a very nice breakfast, but I had these for dinner, and was left sort of still hungry - but that's still good for a diet dinner:)

Salt Baked Fish

I have seen versions of whole fish baked in salt in a number of places. So a whole red snapper got baked up in a dome of salt with a few crushed spices of my choice. Because the moisture is trapped inside the salt casing, the fish ends up juicy and tender. Easy to make - and definitely worth it. A word of caution though - this recipe has nothing but salt, the spices add very little to the dish - so its all about the fish, and not much else. I served this with some olive oil and lemon wedges.

February 7, 2008

Arbi Tandoori

My only introduction to Arbi (also known as Colocasia, Taro, Dasheen and Cocoyam) was in a Gujarati dish called Patra, where the elephant ear shaped leaves are smeared with chickpea paste and spices, then rolled and steamed to make a delicious side. It was only a few years ago that I discovered that the corm was used in Indian cooking as well. I had tasted a delicious version of chema pulusu, a tamarind based stew with Arbi, so I tried and tried to replicate it, with not much success to date. And the slimy texture of the cooked vegetable was a bit of a turn off.

Here a recipe with Arbi that I can finally say I like. The boiled arbi is coated with a yogurt and spice mixture and allowed to dry out in the oven - this coating makes the texture much less slimy, and the final stir fry with the onions and more spices brings the dish together nicely.

Arbi Tandoori
1/2 kg or 1.1lb Arbi
1 tbsp whole coriander seeds, lightly crushed
2 large onions cut into rings
1 tsp garam masala
1 1/2 tsp amchoor (dry mango) powder
4-5 green chillies, slit lengthwise
1/2" piece ginger, julienned
1 tbsp oil
Salt to taste

1 cup thick yogurt - hung if necessary
1 tbsp tandoori masala
1 tsp ginger paste
1/2 tsp ajwain (carom seeds)
1 tbsp oil
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp besan (chickpea or gram flour)
Pinch turmeric
Fresh cracked pepper to taste

1. Boil arbi in salted water until tender. Peel and cut into 3/4" pieces and flatten slightly.
2. Mix all the marinade ingredients together.
3. Preheat oven to 180C or 360F. Grease a wire rack.
4. Coat the arbi pieces with the marinade and arrange on rack. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes. The yogurt mixture should dry up and from a coating on the arbi.
5. Heat oil. Add coriander seeds and wait until golden. Add onions and cook until light brown.
6. Add arbi, garam masala, amchoor, green chilies, ginger and salt. Stir fry for a few minutes. Serve hot with roti

February 5, 2008

Dry Fruit and Nut Balls

I have made these Dry Fruit and Nut balls countless times. They make a delicious snack. I find I can never stop after eating just one!

I used whatever dry fruit I had on hand instead - blueberries, cranberries and raisins. (It's a great way to use up those bags of dry fruit from Costco.) And since I was running low on pistachios, I used walnuts instead. No creme de cassis? Any orange liqueur works fine, or even just honey. It's fairly hard to mess this up. Just try to keep the ratio of sour to sweet dry fruit in balance. I shaped these by pressing the mixture into a tablespoon measure and sliding the ball out by pushing down on one end.

The original recipe is reproduced below. I don't have a meat grinder, so I chop the dry fruit as much as I can, and then pulse it in the food processor with the liquids until it is fairly small.

Give this a try - I think you will like it...

Dry Fruit and Nut Balls
5 ounces (approximately 1 cup) roasted pistachios
4 ounces (approximately 1 cup) dried cherries
2 ounces (approximately 1/2 cup) dried apricots
2 ounces (approximately 1/2 cup) golden raisins
2 ounces (approximately 1/2 cup) pitted dates
1 tablespoon orange juice
2 tablespoons creme de cassis

Put the pistachios in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped, but not powdery. Divide in half into 2 separate bowls and set aside.

Put the cherries, apricots, raisins, and dates through a food grinder using the medium-grind blade. Add to the bowl with half of the pistachios. Add the orange juice and creme de cassis to the mixture and combine, using your hands, until the liquid is evenly distributed throughout. Shape the mixture into 24 walnut size balls and roll them in the remaining chopped pistachios. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

January 27, 2008

Boiled Peanuts

On the rare occasion that I find raw or green peanuts in their shells, I feel lucky. Boiled with salt, these make a deliciously addictive snack.

Peanuts are not really nuts, but legumes. They originated in South America in 2000 BCE. It wasn't until the 16th century that the Portuguese brought them to Africa, India and Asia! Isn't it almost ironic how something that only arrived a few hundred years ago has become so prominent and so integral a part of African and Asian cuisines?

In India, I have seen them being used in chutneys, spiced and roasted as a snack, or powdered and added to curries and gravies. From other cuisines, I have tried peanut soups, stews and dipping sauces. And of course, we shouldn't forget peanut butter and peanut brittle...

Peanuts are particularly susceptible to mold during storage, so check to see if your store had stored them in a cool dry place (the mold thrives in warm humid conditions).

Boiled peanuts
The recipe is simple. Cover the peanuts with water. Add plenty of salt. Taste for salt and add more as needed. The liquid should taste like sea water.

Pressure cook for 20-30 minutes or as needed. When done, the nuts should be fairly soft and the salt water should have oozed into the shells.

You can flavor small batches with additional seasonings too. I have tasted delicious Jalapeno flavored peanuts before, so this time, I made three batches: one with Habaneros, another with Red Chillies and Star Anise and the third was just plain salted peanuts.

Split the shells with your teeth so you can get the juices in your mouth. Now is not the time to be shelling them with your fingers!

This is my entry to Mansi's Game Night Party Event.

January 24, 2008

Apricot, Banana, Clementine Terrine

Terrine is French for a glazed earthenware cooking dish with vertical sides. It's also the name for any food that is prepared in a terrine (much like a tagine).

I was discussing terrines and this event with a friend, and she was aghast that I wouldn't try any other terrine. 'Jello with fruit?', she exclaimed. 'There are so many better things you can do', she said.My mind flashed back to the only time I had made and enjoyed this dish as a child, and I told her 'It tastes good...". Well? - she was right. I guess our palates change over time.

I made a Banana Bread pudding with a Tangerine Caramel sauce recently, and it had so many layers of flavors from caramelized bananas and from the fruity caramel. This dessert is at the exact opposite end of the spectrum. This is an incredibly simple tasting dessert, something that kids would love. Adults? I am not so sure... So why am I blogging about this? So people who are planning to make this, know what to expect I guess. This is my entry to The Passionate Cook's (Johanna) Waiter! There's something in my... event.

Apricot, Banana, Clementine Terrine

2 envelopes (1/4 ounce each) unflavored gelatin

2 cups white grape juice
1/2 cup sugar
5 1/2 to 6 cups of mixed fresh fruit, sliced. I used apricots, bananas, clementines and wild blueberries

In a small bowl, sprinkle gelatin over 1/4 cup grape juice; let soften 2 to 3 minutes.

Heat sugar with another 1/4 cup grape juice in a small saucepan over medium-high heat until dissolved. Remove from heat; stir in softened gelatin until dissolved, then stir in remaining 1 1/2 cups grape juice.

Place fruit in a 4-by-8-inch (6 cup capacity) loaf pan; pour gelatin mixture over, pressing fruit gently to submerge completely. Refrigerate until firm, at least 3 hours.

To unmold, dip bottom of pan in hot water for a few seconds. Invert onto a serving platter, and shake firmly to relase. Slice to serve.

This recipe is adapted from Elise's Berry and Banana Terrine.

January 18, 2008

Dahi Chaat - A Savory Yogurt Snack

Chaat - I suspect just the mere mention of this word gets people from India salivating. Chaat is the generic word for a range of Indian snacks, typically served by street vendors. Literally translated it means 'to lick' - these little plates of food are so lip smackingly delicious - you can't resist licking the plate clean.

There are a whole bunch of different dishes that fall under the chaat category: Dahi Puri, Pani Puri, Bhel Puri, etc. Puri - in this case, means a bite sized piece of crispy fried bread, the hollow shell of which is filled or topped with a number of different ingredients. You can find more information on chaat here.

In my version of dahi or yogurt chaat, I use store bought Armenian Cracker Bread in place of the puris. This crisp cracker bread is made with whole grain and it's baked, not fried. I load up this bread with chutneys, yogurt, spices and boiled potatoes and legumes . With all the delicious stuff on the bread, it becomes merely a crisp receptacle for the toppings. Healthy, fun, protein packed and a meal by itself, this dish is great for when I am not in the mood to cook anything elaborate. (I try to keep a mixture of boiled moong, chickpeas and potatoes in my freezer just for adding to chat.) This makes for a fun weeknight dinner.

The only specialty ingredient is the black salt*. This red or purple colored salt is mined from the earth, and has a distinct flavor that regular salt just can't provide. If you can taste the cracker bread, there aren't enough toppings on it - add more yogurt, chilli/cumin/black salt powder and taste again. It may take a couple of attempts to get the quantities right.

Dahi Chaat
(Serves about 4)

1 package Armenian Cracker bread
mint-coriander chutney, store bought or homemade (I like the Swad brand)
canned chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
moong, boiled
potatoes, boiled and cubed
cumin powder
black salt, powdered
red chilli powder
1 onion, chopped
a small bunch of cilantro, chopped
thin sev (optional)

Tamarind chutney
Dilute the tamarind concentrate in some water. Add brown sugar, salt, ginger powder and chilli powder to taste. It should taste sweet and sour.

1. Whisk the yogurt with some water if needed until smooth. The consistency shouldn't be too thick or too watery. Season with a little salt.
2. Season the moong, potatoes and chickpeas with salt and chilli powder
3. Spread a generous helping of the mint chutney on the bread. Top with potatoes, moong, chickpeas, onions and cilantro.
4. Drizzle yogurt and tamarind chutney on top. Sprinkle cumin, chilli powder and black salt.
5. The final topping is sev, if using, for some added crunch.

Serve right away before the bread gets soggy.

*Black salt is called kala namak or sanchal in Hindi. It is an unrefined mixture of minerals with a sulfurous smell. This is not the same as Hawaiian black sea salt, which is made by mixing sea salt with activated charcoal. No other salt is a good substitute for black salt's taste, so it is worth the trouble of getting the real thing. It is available online or in Indian grocery stores.

January 15, 2008

Mango Papaya Salad

This Mango Papaya Salad is a refreshing addition to almost any meal. It's a great way to get something a little sweet into the meal. And what better way to get your daily fix of fruits and vegetables?!

I used to have the preconceived notion that salads are not supposed to be sweet. But after trying many delicious salads and salsas that had something sweet, I guess I had to change my mind. This salad has a bit of heat from the chillies, sweetness from the fruit and some tang from the lime juice. You could also use pineapple in place of, or in addition to any of the fruits in this recipe - it works just as well. This is my contribution to this month's A Fruit A Month (AFAM), Papaya, hosted by Nags from For the Cook In Me.

Mango Papaya Salad
1 mango, chopped
1 small papaya, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped (optional)
1/4 red onion, finely minced
1/4 habanero or 1-2 green chillies, minced
few sprigs cilantro, chopped
lime juice, to taste
salt and pepper to taste

Soak the minced red onion in cold water for 5-10 minutes to mellow out some of it's harshness. Combine all the ingredients. Taste and adjust with more lime juice, salt and pepper if needed.

January 12, 2008

Curried Carrot and Apple Soup

Curried Carrot and Apple Soup
I was skeptical - how could a carrot and apple soup be fun? Wouldn't it be too sweet? A closer look at the recipe* revealed just one tart apple in the whole batch, and these apples aren't overly sweet. And korma curry powder seemed interesting. I knew I could make this curry powder at home from the ingredients in my pantry. Besides, I have been smitten with the flavor of cooked tart (Granny Smith) apples recently. Cooking these apples makes them mellow and so delicious that I was surprised, and disappointed I hadn't used them sooner!

This soup was fun. Only mildly sweet, and flavorful. The combination of the fennel seeds and spices from the kurma powder paired well with the carrots. Since the familiar orange carrot is the richest vegetable source of beta carotene, I try hard to find recipes with carrots that taste good. I believe that even the most boring vegetable can shine if treated right and paired with the right ingredients. This root vegetable has a distinct aroma. It is versatile enough to play either the starring role in the dish, or merely accent the other ingredients in the dish. It is used across the board from soups (as a base ingredient in stocks, stews and soups), vegetable sides, pickles, chutneys and relishes, to desserts like carrot cake and the fudge like Gajar ka halwa. This soup is my contribution to Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted this week by Vani from Batasari.

Curried Carrot and Apple Soup
2 teaspoons oil
4 large carrots, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
2 Thai green chilies
1 tart baking apple, chopped
3-4 cups water or vegetable broth
salt and black pepper
plain yogurt and carrot curls, to garnish

Korma Curry powder:
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon dry coconut shreds (or use fresh coconut milk or fresh frozen coconut)
1/2 teaspoon peppercorns
Dash of cinnamon, clove and cardamom powder
3 tablespoons cashew nuts or almonds

Lightly toast the ingredients for the curry powder and grind to a powder.

Heat the oil and add onions and saute until transparent. Add the curry powder and fry for 2-3 minutes. Next add the carrots and apple, stir well, then cover the pan.

Cook over very low heat for about 15 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally until softened. Spoon the vegetable mixture into a food processor or blender, then add half the broth and process until smooth.

Return to the pan and pour in the remaining broth. Bring the soup to a boil and adjust the seasoning before serving in bowls, garnish with a swirl of yogurt and a few curls of carrot.

The recipe is adapted from a book called 'Soup: Superb ways with a classic dish'

January 8, 2008

Tom Yum Goong Soup

(Easily adaptable for Vegetarians*)

Tom Yum Soup, an aromatic, spicy, and sour Thai soup is one my comfort foods. This soup is sour and fragrant from the lemongrass and lime leaves, and soothing - try a homemade version once and you are likely to get hooked forever. Every so often, I crave these flavors; Or, when I'm down with a cold or flu, this soup warms me right up and comforts me so much so that for a brief while, it's almost fine to be sick. This is my contribution to Jugalbandi's Event CLICK: Liquid Comfort.

I stock up on the ingredients for this soup when I visit the local South East Asian store. Properly stored, lemongrass, lime leaves and galangal keep for a very long time in your freezer. (The lime leaves, galangal and lemongrass in the picture have been in my freezer for 5 months. As lemongrass ages, it may become just a touch less aromatic, so you may need to up the amount used in your recipe)

(Clockwise from top right: cilantro, green onions, button mushrooms, ginger, galangal, green chilies, lime leaves, lemongrass, lime)

Galangal tastes like an austere version of ginger, with overtones of camphor, pepper and pine. A taste of it reminded me of the smell of camphor burning in temples in India. It is used a lot in Thai cooking, and freezes beautifully. Certainly worth a try, just for the fun of it. Lime leaves and lemongrass have an aromatic sour fragrance - unlike limes which just taste sour in your food without adding much in the smell department.

Tom Yum Goong Soup
3 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
3-4 stalks fresh lemongrass, sliced on a bias in 2-inch pieces
10 kaffir lime leaves
1-inch piece fresh galangal or ginger or both, sliced
4-6 Thai red or green chilies, sliced
2 tablespoons fish sauce, such as nam pla
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar (optional)
1 (8-ounce) can straw mushrooms, rinsed or 5-6 Button mushrooms sliced
1 pound large shrimp, peeled with tails on
2 limes, juiced
2 green onions, sliced
1 handful fresh cilantro, chopped

Bring the stock and water to the boil over medium heat in a saucepan. Add the lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, and chiles. Lower the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes to let the spices infuse the broth. For convenience, I remove the lemongrass and lime leaves from the liquid before adding the shrimp. Authentic versions of the soup leave them in, you are expected to avoid eating them in your soup bowl.

Uncover and add the fish sauce and sugar. Simmer for 5 minutes. Toss in the shrimp and cook on very low heat (so the shrimp stay tender and juicy) for about 8 minutes until they turn pink. Remove from the heat and add the lime juice, green onions, mushrooms and cilantro. Taste for salt and spices; you should have an equal balance of spicy, salty, and sour. Keep tasting and adjusting with salt, fresh lime juice and if its not hot enough, one or two finely minced green chillies. Serve hot.


  • An overview of Thai ingredients with beautiful pictures from Jugalbandi
  • The original recipe from which I adapted mine
*The vegetarian version can be made by using vegetable stock and tofu in this recipe, and omitting the fish sauce.

January 6, 2008

Seared Sea Scallops

Scallops are bivalve mollusks with scallop-edged, fan-shaped shells (like the Shell logo). In the U.S., when a scallop is prepared, usually only the adductor muscle or eye is used. The central adductor muscle is what holds the two shell halves together. Scallops use this muscle to swim by snapping their shells together.

Scallops without any additives are called dry, dry packed, or chemical free* while scallops that are treated with sodium tripolyphosphate (STP) are called wet packed. Frozen seafood typically has added STP to help bind the natural moisture in seafood through the freezing and thawing process**. Fresh (not previously frozen) seafood does not have any reason to use STP except to retain water and push the weight and price up. It's a good idea to ask the person behind the counter if the scallops have been treated with any chemicals or if they were previously frozen and thawed.

I do try to take the trouble to buy fresh (not frozen or previously frozen) dry scallops. Trying to get a sear on previously frozen scallops is impossible as the scallops just keep leaking water from the freezing process** - you just can't get any browning. Frozen scallops do have their uses - they are great for stews, gravies or any other wet dish.

Here is my adaptation of Alton Brown's recipe, sized for two.

Seared Sea Scallops

3/4 pound dry sea scallops
1 teaspoon unsalted butter
1 or 2 teaspoons olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Remove the small side muscle from the scallops***.It's tough and chewy in your mouth. Rinse with cold water and thoroughly pat dry. (Drying them thoroughly is needed to get a great sear - it's the reason we bought dry scallops in the first place.)
Add the butter and oil to a saute pan on high heat. Salt and pepper the scallops. Once the fat begins to smoke, gently add the scallops, making sure they are not touching each other. Sear the scallops for 1 1/2 minutes on each side. The scallops should have a 1/4-inch golden crust on each side while still being translucent in the center. Serve immediately.

We had this for a light dinner with the Cracked Potatoes - and the only thing conspicuous by its absence was a glass of good white wine. The last time I made this, we had a dry Spanish Manzanilla sherry with it and it was mind-blowingly good. This time, I had some Sparkling white wine, but didn't bother opening it. What a mistake! - the dish was only half the fun without some good wine to go with it.

You can find some good information on scallops here and here

* Day boat or diver scallops are top notch - if you can find them - they are worth the price. Diver scallops are collected by hand by divers and they are generally the largest in size.
Day boat refers to boats that fish for scallops just for the day, rather than the traditional method of dredging for many days in a row before returning to harbor.

**You must have noticed that when you thaw frozen food water tends to run out of it. The is because water in the food ruptures the cell membranes as it expands into ice crystals. When thawed, the punctured cells leak that water out, resulting in food that is limp. The same thing happens when frozen scallops are thawed either by supermarkets before selling (which is why manufacturers try to minimize drip loss with STP) or when you thaw and cook them.

***I always forget to ask my fishmonger to remove the side muscle of the scallop - doing this will save you valuable minutes in the kitchen.

January 4, 2008

Cracked Potatoes

I saw an episode on French Bistro fare, by Amy Finely on Food TV. Her cracked potatoes recipe seemed interesting, so I gave it a couple of tries. In the first attempt, I used Thyme as she did, but forgot to add garlic. This time around I used Rosemary instead, and upped the quantity of sliced garlic to my taste. In each attempt, I couldn't bring myself to use the 1/2 cup of olive oil that the recipe called for - so I used a couple of tablespoons instead.

In this recipe, potatoes are lightly smacked until they just begin to crack (I used a mortar and pestle). Then, they are cooked over low heat with olive oil and herbs, until the potatoes are crisp on the outside and creamy inside. Garlic and more fresh herbs are added towards the end of cooking, and the garlic is allowed to become lightly brown and chewy.

I used baby red potatoes for quick cooking, Since the skin is not removed during cooking, it's best to go organic. Potatoes are also high on the list of foods the US department of agriculture recommends buying organic.

N (my significant other), loved these. I liked a couple of things about this recipe:
The garlic! - who knew browned garlic could be any good? I thought you were never supposed to brown garlic - but this was seriously delicious.
The herbs: Both thyme and rosemary were so aromatic. The smell of olive oil and herbs cooking in your kitchen is unforgettable, and then, garlic hits the pot...

This is a very simple recipe, so you can really taste the potatoes. I would like my potatoes crispier rather than creamier, so the next time around I would boil or steam the potatoes, almost flatten them to increase the surface area in touch with the pan, and then crisp them up in my cast iron skillet with olive oil, herbs and garlic . The flattening and crisping technique is inspired by fried green plantains (tostones), but is much healthier.

This is my contribution to Sweetnicks ARF/5-A-Day Event.

January 3, 2008

Potato Gnocchi with Sage, Preserved Lemon, and Brown butter

Sage, a member of the mint family, has been enjoyed for centuries for both its culinary and medicinal uses. The name comes from a derivative of the Latin salvus, meaning "safe," a reference to the herb's believed healing powers.*

Sage is considered to have a special affinity for fatty foods like pork and cheese, so it is used in sausage dishes and poultry stuffings. It also complements potatoes and bean soups.

resh leaves are typically added near the end of cooking process, or the leaves are sauteed in butter or olive oil until crisp, much like curry leaves.

Potato Gnocchi with Sage, Preserved Lemon, and Brown Butter is a simple and flavorful dish inspired by the classic Gnocchi with Sage and Butter. It is my contribution for Weekend Herb Blogging. I used store bought Potato Parmesan Gnocchi for this recipe. (I have never made Gnocchi from scratch yet - but never say never...)

Brown butter or Beurre noisette (hazel butter) and Beurre noir (black butter) are sauces of melted butter cooked until the milk solids and sugars have turned golden or dark brown; they are often finished with an addition of vinegar or lemon juice. Brown butter is simply butter cooked until it's milk solids have browned. Butter's flavor is deepened by boiling off the water and allowing the milk sugar and proteins to react with each other to form brown pigments and new aromas**. It is often finished with an addition of vinegar of lemon juice. (Ghee is clarified butter made by boiling off the water and removing the milk solids to leave behind a clear, long keeping fat that can be heated to a higher smoke point than butter, because it has no milk solids that can burn).

I have found Preserved lemons in South east Asian stores at dirt cheap prices. These are delicious, but incredibly salty, so watch the added salt if using. I sometimes substitute them for fresh lemons as I have done in this recipe.

13oz, (about 370g) store bought Potato Parmesan Gnocchi
1 preserved lemon, seeds and center removed, finely chopped (or substitute lemon juice and zest to taste)
20-30 fresh Sage leaves, chopped
2T butter
salt to taste

Set enough water to boil to cook the gnocchi according to package directions. (When gnocchi overcooks, it turns to mush. It is also best eaten hot off the stove - I have already verified both:), so timing is of the essence). Meanwhile, melt 2T butter and let it brown to a dark amber color(do not let it burn). When the gnocchi are done, toss with the browned butter and sage and preserved lemon and toss around for a minute or so. Serve hot.

Instead of adding fresh sage leaves towards the end, you can also try frying the sage leaves to a crisp in the brown butter.

References and Notes:
*Comprehensive information on sage can be found here
** From Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking

Kayln's comment about the difficulty of finding preserved lemons, inspired me to try and make Lemon Confit next. I think it may be a quick and easy substitute that doesn't need to wait for the rinds to soften - so it's good to go right away. Let me know if you do try it.