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Saturday, January 24, 2009

red lentil dal


teaching myself to cook Indian food

Every week I write four or five recipes for my Glacier Grist newsletter that goes in our CSA produce boxes. Sometimes I include Indian recipes, or recipes inspired by Indian flavors. I hope that our customers aren’t put off by unusual recipes, the spices they might have to buy specially, or by the interesting combinations of spices they would normally put in sweet baked goods (cinnamon and cardamom, for example). Are they trying the recipes?

I love to cook vegetables with Indian flavors—no matter what vegetables I’ve got hanging around, I’m bound to find something interesting and relatively simple in one of my Indian cookbooks. I think because there is such a tradition of vegetarian cooking in India, and so many vegetables thrive in that climate, Indians have developed a huge variety of traditional vegetable foods that taste fun and exciting, and as a bonus, are really healthy!

But I wasn’t always so comfortable cooking Indian food. I remember several years ago, when I had collected a few books with Indian recipes in them, I had found some recipes that I put in fairly steady rotation. Beyond those few recipes, though, I didn’t branch out much. Mainly because every once in an while I would get the urge to make a big Indian feast, and it would take me all day just to figure out what dishes I would make. Which dishes would taste good, and which would complement each other? And would those recipes work with anything I already had in my refrigerator or garden? Unlike recipes from cuisines closer to home, I had NO idea what these dishes would taste like. They all seemed to have the same spices: ginger, garlic, turmeric, cumin…  would they all taste the same? And would it be soupy or dry? Some of my cookbooks had all kinds of instructions on how to plan an Indian meal. A dry dish, a wet stew, a dal (pulse dish), rice and/or flatbread, yogurt raita, and a chutney or two. It was all so complicated and involved.

But several years ago I had a fantastic vegetable meal in an Indian restaurant in Denver. After that, I was determined to get over my insecurities. My method: I cooked Indian dishes determined only by the color of the vegetable ingredients. With Indian food, you’re never QUITE sure of the final color; those salmon-colored red lentils turn yellow, and the turmeric in a lot of dishes turns things yellow, too—but if you start with a good variety of color in the raw ingredients, you can’t go wrong. For a feast, I would cook a couple of vegetable dishes with contrasting colors, a lentil of some kind, and a rice or flatbread. For example, I would make a beet & mushroom dish with a greens & potato dish. Or I’d make cabbage with lentils to go with a cauliflower & red pepper dish.

This turned out to be very liberating, and a great way to explore a lot of different recipes! The point is that I had no idea what they would taste like—on their own or together—but it turned out not to matter! Maybe these dishes wouldn’t be eaten together by any self-respecting Indian cook, but who cares? It all tastes good to me! After I make a dish, I scribble notes in the cookbook about how I altered it, how it tastes, what it looks like, and what would be good to serve with it.

Nowadays I love to make a big batch of two dishes (a vegetable and a dal, for example) and eat them for dinner, maybe with rice if the vegetable dish doesn’t contain potatoes. The next day, we eat leftovers, and make another Indian vegetable dish to add to the mix. You can go for days like this if you’re like me and love leftovers…  just add a new dish every couple of days and you can have a continual variety of Indian food for a week!

The dal recipe below is very simple, and can be varied in all kinds of different ways. Please don’t be intimidated by the spices or the unusual flavors…  I think you’ll really love it! If you’re up for trying a second dish, try the cabbage & potato dish from the previous post!

red lentil dal

This is a really fun, really yummy dish with fantastic Indian flavors, and it’s quite simple. This recipe is inspired by Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian, except I’ve added a lot less oil. She puts loads of zucchini in hers, and while I love that version (a similar one is in my Farmers’ Market cookbook) I’ve found that you can make this soup without the zucchini, and then add any random cooked vegetable to a bowl of this soup afterwards. In the winter, I love to thaw out bags of last summer’s frozen cauliflower or broccoli. You can use any kind of vegetable you like; just pre-cook it (steam, blanch, roast… however you feel like cooking your veggie, or whatever you happen to have leftover),and add it at the last minute before serving, in the middle of a lake of lentils in a bowl. Or you can just use the dal plain, as a side dish to another vegetable dish! This recipe is perfect with the spicy Indian cabbage & potatoes. If you add a vegetable to the soup, you can serve it for a fancy dinner with the carrot & mint salad with currants and some brown basmati rice

I always make a double batch and freeze the extra for later. It’s great the first day, but even better the second!

2 cups red lentils, washed and drained
½ teaspoon turmeric
sea salt or kosher salt
1-2 tablespoons canola or olive oil
a pinch of cardamom seeds, pounded just to break them up a bit (or use ground cardamom, but don’t add it until you add the onion to the skillet)
1 (3”) cinnamon stick
4 bay leaves
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
2 medium onions, finely chopped
4 teaspoons peeled fresh ginger root, minced finely or grated to a pulp
6 garlic cloves, minced
freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne (or more, if you like things spicy)

1. Put the lentils and 5 cups of water in a heavy-bottomed pot and bring to a boil. When it boils, remove the foam that rises to the top. Add the turmeric and stir it in. Cover, leaving the lid slightly ajar, and cook very gently for 30 to 50 minutes until the lentils are tender. Add 2 teaspoons of salt and stir to combine.
2. Meanwhile, heat the oil over medium high heat in a nonstick frying pan. When very hot, add the cardamom, cinnamon, bay leaves, and whole cumin seeds. Stir for a few seconds until the cumin is fragrant and then add the onion and ½ teaspoon of salt. Stir and fry until the onions are golden brown.
3. Add the ginger and garlic, black pepper to taste, and cayenne, and stir and fry for another minute. Stir in a ¼ cup of water or so to deglaze the pan, and then add the contents of the frying pan to the lentils. Stir gently to combine and cook on low heat for a minute or two until the flavors are combined.
4. Season with salt to taste. Serve as a side dish in a small bowl, or put some in the bottom of a large bowl and pile a bunch of cooked vegetables in the middle.


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Friday, January 23, 2009

spicy Indian cabbage & potatoes


cabbage, cabbage, cabbage!

It’s local! It’s Alaskan! It’s sweeter than cabbage grown anywhere else! And I have a LOT of it. I’d piled a couple of shelves of my extra garage refrigerator with it before the end of the farmers’ market, and now I keep getting little cabbages in our CSA boxes. Occasionally my “stocking up for the winter” tendencies can become more of a burden than a boon…  I was afraid that I might never catch up with my cabbage supply! But I’ve been making some serious headway lately! Here’s a great recipe that will help you dig out from under your cabbage pile if you’re facing one… or to encourage you to eat locally-grown cabbage if you live in a northern climate! I of course made a double batch, the better to use up my cabbage stock.

This recipe is based on one in one of my all-time favorite cookbooks to read: Seductions of Rice. Not only is it full of great recipes for rice and things to eat with rice, it’s packed with wonderful travel stories and photos by husband-and-wife team Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. They travel all over the world with their two sons, collecting recipes from people in small villages, then going home to Canada to write about them. It’s a book to sit down with and read—not just to cook out of! Every time I read one their cookbook/travel adventures I have an urge to pick up and move to Thailand or India for several months. But since I haven’t actually ever followed through on this whim, I can enjoy some of their experiences vicariously by cooking some of the interesting, simple, and delicious foods in their books.

spicy Indian cabbage & potatoes

As noted in the story above, this recipe is based on one from Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid’s Seductions of Rice. I happened to have a bunch of shallots while I made it this time, so I used them all up in this recipe, but usually I just used onions and garlic. Adjust the amount of chiles to your taste. Serve this with brown basmati rice (recipe below), and if you want, a bowl of red lentil dal alongside.

1 to 1 ½ pounds green cabbage
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 small dried red chiles, or ½ teaspoon red chile flakes
1 teaspon cumin seed
2 bay leaves
2 cloves
1 inch cinnamon stick, broken into several pieces
2 green cardamom pods, smashed, OR ¼ teaspoon whole cardamom seeds, crushed lightly
1 cup thinly sliced shallots, OR 1 large onion, diced, and 2 garlic cloves, minced
3 medium potatoes, cut into ½-inch pieces
2 plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped (or half a can of diced tomatoes)
1 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon turmeric
2 tablespoons minced ginger
½ cup water

1. Quarter, core, and slice the cabbage into ¼-inch strips.
2. Place a large pot over medium-high heat. When it is hot, add the oil, then when the oil is hot, toss in the chiles, cumin, bay leaf, cloves, cinnamon stick, and cardamom. Stir briefly and cook for 30 seconds to 1 minute, until cumin is fragrant, then add the shallots or onions & garlic. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.
3. Stir in the potatoes, tomato, salt, and sugar. Cook for 1 minute, then add the cabbage, turmeric, and ginger and stir and turn to coat the cabbage. Cook for 1 minute, then add the water, bring to a boil, and cook, partially covered, for about 15 or 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so. The potatoes and cabbage should be tender and the flavors blended. Taste for salt, and add more as needed. Remove the lid and cook for 5 minutes to reduce the liquid, then mound onto a plate and serve.

brown basmati rice

I learned this technique from Mollie Katzen’s Mollie Katzen’s Vegetable Heaven. The rice is cooked using lots of water, which I find works perfectly for brown basmati—it’s never gummy or undercooked this way.

1 ½  cups uncooked brown basmati rice
2 teaspoons sea salt or kosher salt

1. Fill a medium-sized pot with 10 cups or so of water (it doesn’t need to be exact) and bring to a rolling boil. Add the rice to the water, turn down the heat, and simmer for 40 minutes, or until the rice is just tender.
2. Drain the rice in a strainer over the sink, and immediately dump rice back into the hot pot. Cover tightly with the lid and let steam OFF THE HEAT for 20 minutes. Fluff the rice.

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

pecan cardamom poundcake


Happy Birthday, my one true love!

Around here, almost all our birthdays cluster in a feverish clot around Christmas—even including extended family. Some of the birthdays fall before New Year’s, some after. Even as one of the guilty parties (a December baby), it feels like a bit too much sometimes, even when we keep the celebrations VERY simple (e.g., dinner of your choice + cake + card).

For my birthday, Dan and Meredith made a beautiful little gingerbread cake, and after dinner, I waited in the dark at the table while they conspired in the pantry for 10 minutes or so. When they finally emerged, they were carrying quite the bonfire; yes, they’d planted one candle for each of my 38 years. It was only an 8-inch cake, too, so you can imagine the inferno. By the time they had the candles all lit, and I’d made my wish and extinguished the blaze, many of the candles had burned down to their nubbins. So even after removing the candles, the cake was festooned with blue puddles of wax… You don’t see a birthday cake like that every day! It was the best one ever!

So Dan’s birthday is on Tuesday, which in addition to being Inauguration Day, is also our big baking day. Since we’re up at 5am and baking hard all day, it doesn’t leave much time or energy for celebrating, so we decided to celebrate his birthday today! He picked the pecan cardamom pound cake…  and I have to say, it’s an awfully good choice for a birthday cake. This cake has been called into service for most every other occasion, too: potluck parties, Christmas parties, car-camping trips, my friend Nicole’s wedding cake, and just general all-purpose yummy cake. It’s spicy and flavorful, and chock full of toasted pecans…  It’s very rich, but you can cut thin slices and feed an army with it. Or, it will work for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for a 3 or 4 day camping trip for 3 adults (with a few other staples thrown in).

We considered the hugeness and richness of this cake before Dan chose the cake. It really does feed a crowd…  and we weren’t in the mood for a big party. But then we remembered that this cake freezes really well! So anyway, don’t let the 6 eggs and pound of butter put you off. Just invite lots of friends over to share it, or freeze some for later! 


pecan cardamom poundcake

This cake is based on a recipe in the fantastic cookbook Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts. Like I mentioned above—don’t be put off by all the butter and eggs—it’s a rich cake, but it feeds 16 to 20 people with seconds to spare. I use two and a half cups of brown sugar, but the original recipe calls for three. It’s quite sweet when made with three cups; l prefer it a little less sweet, but pump it up to three if you prefer. I of course also pump up the spices and nuts from the original recipe.

I like to get the cardamom and allspice and peppercorns whole, and grind them in my spice grinder (a coffee grinder devoted to that purpose). If you get the cardamom whole, make sure it is “decorticated,” which means the little black seeds are removed from the pods. You don’t want to be grinding the pods up into the cake (or picking the seeds out of the pods, either).

2 cups butter, at room temperature
2 ½ cups brown sugar (see note, above)
6 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 cups white flour
1 tablespoon ground cardamom
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
¾ teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ cup strong coffee, cooled (you can cool it with the milk, below)
½ cup milk
2 to 3 cups pecans, toasted for 15 minutes at 350 degrees, then chopped coarsely (but save several whole pecans for decoration)

coffee glaze

about 1/3 cup coffee
2 cups powdered sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter the bundt pan and dust with flour.  (This step
2. In a large mixing bowl (I use my KitchenAid mixer for this), cream together the butter and brown sugar until light and blended.
3. Beat in the eggs and vanilla. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, cardamom, cinnamon, allspice, black pepper, and baking powder. Beat half of the flour mixture into the butter mixture.
4. Add the coffee (or if you’ve combined the coffee and milk, add ½ cup of the coffee-milk mixture) and beat until smooth. Beat in the remaining flour mixture and then beat in the rest of the liquid. Stir in the pecans by hand.
5. Pour the batter into the greased and floured pan, and bake, checking after an hour. If a knife or a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, it’s done. If you have a convection oven and a dark pan, it will probably only take an hour. For conventional ovens, it might take 1 ¼ or 1 ½ hours. Let the cake rest for 10 minutes before removing it from the pan. Cool on a wire rack.
6. For the glaze, sift the powdered sugar into a bowl. Drizzle in enough coffee, while whisking, to make a glaze the consistency of heavy cream. (If you make the glaze too thick, it’ll chip and crack when you cut the cake.) When the cake cools, set it, still on the rack, over a plate. Pour the glaze over the cake and let it set up for a few minutes. Switch the cake and rack to a second plate, and pour the glaze from the first plate over the cake again. Repeat this a few times until it is glazed to your liking. After the final glaze, when the glaze is still wet, stick pecans on the top for decoration.


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Thursday, January 15, 2009

navy bean, pea, and leek soup with sauerkraut


from one extreme to the other

I’ve been writing about the extraordinarily cold weather a lot lately. Yes, we were breaking records here in Alaska with our three-week cold snap. But now, we can only wish for those -15 degree temperatures… Yesterday and today we’re having 45 degree weather (a change of 60 degrees in just a couple of days!) and winds that are gusting higher than 110 mph. The roads were so perilously icy yesterday that all the schools were closed (they are still closed today), as well as the university, the air force base, and several major thoroughfares.

Unfortunately, I had to venture out early to sell my bread downtown. I didn’t mind if my customers couldn’t make it to pick up their bread, but if they DID go to pick up their bread and I wasn’t there? That would be bad. So, I left really early, and narrowly escaped four separate wrecks by creeping the 15 miles downtown at about 25 miles an hour. It was terrifying.

Meanwhile, my intrepid friend Ken was delivering all the vegetable CSA boxes yesterday morning, through the insanity that was the 50 mile drive from Palmer! Arthur is in Hawaii, that lucky fellow, so Ken has taken over the deliveries in the meantime. What a great time to be on vacation! Ken and I were both wishing we were there instead. Anyway, Ken somehow managed it, and he deserves a medal. Or at the very least, several pineapples from Hawaii when Arthur returns.

To acknowledge this incredibly lousy and much-too-warm weather, here’s a wintertime soup that will make you think of spring, with its leeks and green peas! It’s SO easy, and really delicious and unusual, too. I rummaged around in my freezer to find the sauerkraut I made last fall when the cabbage was at its peak, and the Alaskan peas I blanched and froze.

Here’s our video for how to make sauerkraut!

navy bean, pea, and leek soup with sauerkraut

I can hear you asking me, “Sauerkraut soup??” You don’t have to add the sauerkraut—the soup is good with or without it. But if you like the tang of fresh sauerkraut, I really think you’ll love this recipe. Don’t be tempted to use the shelf-stable sauerkraut in the store—use the refrigerated kind (Bubbies, for example, or Claussen). This is a very simple recipe, as long as you have vegetable stock on hand. If you don’t, it’s easy enough to whip up some basic vegetable stock . It is an adaptation of a recipe in Peter Berley’s wonderful book The Flexitarian Table. It’s a warming winter soup that, because of the leeks and peas, anticipates spring!

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large leeks, about two cups, cleaned and thinly sliced, or minced onions to make up some or all of the leeks
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
1-2 cups cooked navy beans (or other white beans) with their liquid, if home-cooked. Make sure the beans are nice and tender.
4 cups or more basic vegetable stock
1 pound green peas, fresh or frozen
½ to 1 cup fresh (refrigerated) sauerkraut, or thawed from frozen

1. Add the oil to a large saucepan and heat it over medium heat. Add the leeks and/or onions, mint and ½ teaspoon salt. Cook the leeks and onions until tender, 5 minutes or so.
2. Add the beans and four cups of bean cooking liquid and/or vegetables stock. Simmer for a few minutes to combine the flavors.
3. Add the peas and cook until the peas are tender—just a couple of minutes.
4. Add the sauerkraut at the last minute, as a garnish on top of each bowl of soup. Serve the soup with a drizzle of olive oil if you like, and pass more sauerkraut at the table.


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Monday, January 12, 2009

rye crackers


I came back from my run yesterday, and Meredith (my four-year-old) skipped up to me as I peeled off my cold, clammy togs. “Look Mommy! Look what I made with Daddy!” While I was gone, they had made rye crackers, cut out into all kinds of fun shapes! She handed me this cracker, and said “Do you know why I brought you the heart? It’s because I love you!”

I told her it was the BEST cracker I’ve ever eaten! (And it was. Not just because it tasted great!)


rye crackers

This recipe is really fast and easy—Dan and Meredith made them, start to finish, in about an hour! It doesn’t make that many, though—so if you want to have enough for guests, or plenty for the following day, you might want to double the recipe. They are YUMMY! Dan said the original recipe came from a package of Bob’s Red Mill rye flour.

½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup rye flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar (turbinado, if you have it—it adds a nice little crunch)
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons caraway seeds
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons milk or soy milk

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Mix the dry ingredients together. Add the olive oil and milk, and combine well into a ball. Place the ball between 2 sheets of wax paper or parchment. Roll out about an 1/8-inch thick between the sheets of paper. This is a little bit tricky, since the piece of parchment on the bottom side will tend to wrinkle up as you roll the top. Just keep flipping it over, and straightening out the wrinkles. It’s also challenging to know how thin you’re getting the dough, since you can’t see it very well—but it doesn’t much matter. Just do the best you can to get a fairly even layer.
3. Peel off top parchment sheet and gently lay it back in place. Flip dough over; peel off second parchment layer. This lets the dough come off the bottom sheet easily after you cut the shapes out.
4. Cut dough into desired shapes, transferring shapes carefully to baking sheets as you go. Prick each cracker a few times with a fork. Gather scraps; repeat rolling, cutting, and pricking.
5. Bake crackers for 5 to 6 minutes, then remove with spatula to wire rack; cool to room temperature.
6. Store the crackers in an airtight container with sheets of waxed paper or parchment paper between the layers.

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Indian-spiced cauliflower with potatoes and peas


Last summer I spent a lot of time putting up food for the winter, and I even made a couple of how-to videos for our South Anchorage Farmers’ Market customers. You can see the broccoli one, below, if you want! Through August and September, I filled my freezer with broccoli, peas, collards, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and even some sauerkraut.

You might wonder where I put all these Ziploc bags of vegetables. Like most Alaskans, I own a large chest freezer. There’s plenty of room in it for frozen vegetables and berries, as well as containers of beans, soups, stews, bean dips, and pesto. It lives in my basement, and it’s how I feed my family healthy vegetable and bean dishes! I cook large batches and freeze the extras for eating later in carefully-labeled containers. Talk about fast food! But I should digress and reveal my two rules for freezing things:

1) Never freeze something you didn’t really like in the first place. You won’t want to eat it later, and it’ll just take up space in your freezer until 2015 when you finally toss it.
2) Always, always label things. The last thing you need is to accidentally thaw out a bucket of enchilada sauce when you were hoping for a nice soothing pot of tomato soup.

So that’s all great—a freezer full-o-food is fantastic. But I realized a few weeks ago that there was a little problem with my system. Arthur and I started our Glacier Valley CSA program in September, and since then, I’ve been taking home a box or two of vegetables every week. Usually two boxes. Which we can definitely work through, the three of us…  especially if we have dinner guests. But it’s not like we’re running out of the box veggies and having to dig into the freezer very often! I had the sinking feeling that my freezer was actually getting FULLER, not emptier, this winter. Sometimes I have so many vegetables in my boxes that when I cook them up I have to freeze the extras. Do you get that panicky feeling when you accidentally buy too much at the farmers’ market? Well, that was my state of mind.

So luckily last week was our week off from the CSA. (We take the first week of each month off, for people to catch up on their veggies and to give ourselves a break.) I vowed not to buy anything else from the grocery store (other than necessary condiments like jalapeno chiles, ginger root, parsley, cilantro, etc.) until further notice. No more random purchases of mushrooms, salad greens, or red peppers at Costco just because they look yummy. And unless it comes in the vegetable box, there will be no menu planning with vegetables outside my freezer!

I’m relieved to report that we’ve been cranking through the freezer food in the last couple of weeks, and I’m starting to see real progress. Last night we thawed out the warm lentil & carrot salad (recipe in the post below) to eat with this yummy dish that included cauliflower and peas from the freezer, and potatoes from the garage! My goal is to empty the freezer completely before the end of the winter!

Here’s the broccoli video! You can process cauliflower the same way—but you don’t have to cook the stems separately.

Indian-spiced cauliflower with potatoes and peas

Make sure to do your mise en place for this recipe—get your little spice mix and your ginger and chiles all ready before you get started frying things up, otherwise things are likely to burn while you’re measuring the spices. This recipe is very loosely based on one in Neelam Batra’s amazing compendium: 1,000 Indian Recipes. I recommend serving it with the mildly spiced lentil salad with carrots, recipe in post below. You can serve basmati rice, as well, if you like (recipe below).

1 head cauliflower, trimmed and cut into 1-inch florets
3 medium potatoes, cut into ¾-inch dice
1 cup shelled fresh or frozen peas, thawed
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 fresh green jalapeno chiles, halved, seeded with a spoon, and minced coarsely (use fewer chiles if you don’t like spicy things)
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 tablespoons peeled minced ginger
2 tablespoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
½ cup water
½ teaspoon garam masala

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt the water and add the cauliflower. Boil until just tender, 4 minutes or longer. Scoop the cauliflower out of the water with a slotted spoon or strainer and set aside.
2. Add the potatoes to the boiling water and cook until just tender, 15 minutes or so. Scoop the potatoes out and, if the peas are still frozen, dunk them into the hot water for just a few seconds, until they are thawed. Drain the water off.
3. Heat the oil in a large nonstick pan over medium-high heat and cook the green chiles, stirring, about 30 seconds. Add the cumin and ginger. Quickly add the coriander, cumin, turmeric, and salt, then mix in the potatoes and cauliflower, and add about ¼ cup of water. Cover the pan, bring to a simmer, and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring occasionally. Add more water if necessary to keep things from sticking. When the potatoes are completely soft and tender, add the peas and heat through. Transfer to a serving dish, sprinkle the garam masala on top, and serve.

brown basmati rice

I learned this technique from Mollie Katzen’s Vegetable Heaven, a great cookbook with lots of healthy, simple vegetable recipes. The rice is cooked using lots of water, which I find works perfectly for brown basmati—it’s never gummy or undercooked this way.

1 1/2 cups uncooked brown basmati rice
2 teaspoons sea salt or kosher salt

1. Fill a medium-sized pot with 10 cups or so of water (it doesn’t need to be exact) and bring to a rolling boil. Add the rice to the water, turn down the heat, and simmer for 40 minutes, or until the rice is just tender.
2. Drain the rice in a strainer over the sink, and immediately dump rice back into the hot pot. Cover tightly with the lid and let steam OFF THE HEAT for 20 minutes. Fluff the rice.

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

warm lentil salad with Indian spices


Here is the lentil salad recipe to make with the cauliflower recipe, above!

warm lentil salad with Indian spices

I love this subtle lentil recipe! It’s not too spicy, but has just enough interesting spices and color to make a perfect accompaniment to a spicier Indian dish (like the cauliflower, potato & pea dish, in the post above). Of course, you can serve this salad with other things, as well; it’s wonderful with a dollop of chutney or a dish of salted, garlicky yogurt and a piece of pita bread, for example.

This recipe is a variation of a salad in Annie Somerville’s Fields of Greens. If you make this salad ahead of time (which is always a good idea with legumes—the flavors deepen and meld together), don’t add the cilantro until just before serving. (Or just leave the cilantro out entirely. When I thawed it out to serve with the cauliflower, I didn’t have any—and the dish is still wonderful!) Anyway, when you are ready to serve the salad, warm it up a bit, then taste it. It might need more white wine vinegar and salt before serving—the lentils will soak up the seasonings as they sit, and it might need more sparkle.

1 ½ cups French green lentils
1 bay leaf
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed or minced
1 medium red or yellow onion, diced
white wine vinegar
4 large carrots, peeled and diced
zest and juice from a lemon
1 ½ teaspoons cumin seed, toasted and ground
¼ teaspoon ground coriander
1 ½ teaspoons sea salt or kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup coarsely chopped cilantro (optional)

1. Rinse the lentils and place them in a medium-sized saucepan; cover generously with cold water and add the bay leaf and garlic. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Make sure not to undercook them (you should be able to squish them between your tongue and the roof of your mouth) but don’t let them turn into mush.
2. Meanwhile, bring another pot of water to a boil. Drop the diced onion in for about 30 seconds, then scoop out with a strainer and toss the onions with a generous splash of white wine vinegar. Add a little salt to the water and drop the carrots in for 4 or 5 minutes, until they are just tender-crisp, then drain and toss in with the onions.
3. In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, zest, 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar, spices, salt, cayenne, and black pepper.
4. Drain the lentils when tender; remove the bay leaf and immediately toss them into a large bowl with the vegetables and the dressing mixture. The lemon flavor will be strong at first, but the lentils will absorb it. Add more salt and vinegar to taste—make sure the flavors are nice and sparkling! If using, toss in the cilantro just before serving.

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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

black-eyed pea hummus


dispatch from the frozen north

I made black-eyed pea hummus in honor of New Year’s Day, since eating black-eyed peas is supposed to ensure good fortune in the coming year. (The other thing you’re supposed to eat is collard greens—but you don’t have to eat them in the same meal! Check out my non-traditional Indian collard green recipe if you want.)

Just look at the sunshine beaming onto this plate! For a mid-winter day in Anchorage, these bright beams could portend good things to come in the new year… But it’s a bit of a mixed blessing, because when it’s clear, it’s usually cold.  It’s been 15 degrees below zero for the past two weeks here near the coast, but in the interior, it’s been much colder. Just 45 miles north, in Palmer, it’s been 30 degrees below zero, and when Arthur delivers our CSA vegetable boxes, he has to stack them on the passenger seats to the ceiling of his big Suburban, since the back of his box truck is too cold!

It’s hard to dress warmly enough to cross-country ski or run, but I’ve been dressing in three or four very thick layers to get out there. If it wasn’t so beautiful, with tiers of spruce boughs laden with thick frostings of fluffy snow, the sun reflecting off the sparkles in the air, I wouldn’t mind running inside on a treadmill. As it is, it’s too pretty to miss! That is, when I can see it! After half an hour or so, my eyelashes build up enough ice to stick together when I blink…  or they freeze to my icicle of a neck muff, hoisted up just under my eyes (I guess I should call it a face muff). **ouch!**

I pretend that the rays of sun hitting my one square inch of exposed flesh are providing me with adequate Vitamin D. But whether it hits my skin or not, there’s a psychological benefit of taking the sun. It definitely perks me up, and I feel triumphant afterwards: I’ve managed to overcome the elements! Then, of course, I hop immediately into a hot shower. So much for my tough pioneering spirit.

Anyway, Happy New Year, and stay warm out there!

black-eyed pea hummus

This is a fun recipe based on one in Crescent Dragonwagon’s Passionate Vegetarian. She lives in the South, and calls her spread “Hillbilly Hummus,” since it contains black-eyed peas and peanut butter. I just love the combination of the slightly sweet black-eyes with the peanut butter. (Isn’t that clever—using peanut butter instead of tahini?) It’s quicker than regular hummus, because the black-eyes only take 30 or 40 minutes to cook. I make a really big batch when I do this, because it freezes so well. Just pack the hummus in small containers, label them and pull them out whenever you need a quick appetizer or snack. If you’re making this in mid-winter in Alaska, you can just put them out on your back deck to freeze. Who needs a chest freezer, anyway?

2 cups dried black-eyed peas, soaked for 4 hours or overnight
2 bay leaves
8 cloves garlic (4 for cooking the beans, 4 for the hummus)
¼ cup natural peanut butter, plus more to taste
1 teaspoon dried thyme (or 2 teaspoons fresh thyme)
2 tablespoons cider vinegar or fresh lemon juice, plus more to taste
¼ teaspoon of cayenne, or to taste
2 teaspoons sea salt or kosher salt, plus more to taste

1. Drain and rinse the soaked peas. Cover the black-eyed peas with 2 inches of water in a large pot. Mince or press 4 of the whole garlic cloves and add them and the bay leaves to the pot, and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down and let simmer until the beans are completely tender (you can squish them between your tongue and roof of your mouth). This will probably take about 30 or 40 minutes, but keep testing. Let them cool a bit in their liquid. Don’t drain the beans yet—you’ll need some of the liquid to make the hummus.
2. This is probably the most important step of the whole recipe:  REMOVE THE BAY LEAVES from the peas. (It’s very important to find the bay leaves and get rid of them at this stage. Bay leaves do not puree well—they just turn into hundreds of tiny sharp shards.)
3. In a food processor, mince the remaining 4 cloves of garlic. Add the peanut butter, thyme, vinegar, cayenne and salt, and puree it until well-mixed. If your lemon juice or vinegar is cold, it’ll congeal the peanut butter into little curds—that’s totally fine. Scooping the peas out of the pot with a strainer or slotted spoon, add some of the beans to the food processor. (You might have to do this in batches, depending on the size if your food processor.) If you need to add bean-cooking liquid to make a smooth puree, do so.
4. Taste the puree and add more salt, more peanut butter, more cayenne, vinegar or lemon juice… whatever you think best! Scoop it up with celery sticks, carrots, or spread on crackers or toast! It tastes even better the next day.


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