Thursday, March 03, 2011

Two and a Half

In a nod to the utter horror that is Charlie Sheen, this post is not about Two and a Half Men (a show that, in my opinon, used to be funny before the "half man" hit puberty, but I digress). No. This is about Two and a Half Indian dishes.

I'll explain.

I have been on an Indian food bonanza lately not least because my allergist, charming man that he is, put me on a yeast-free diet in an attempt to figure out if I have allergies to anything in the Kingdom Fungi (which includes yeasts, fungi, and molds). This eliminates a surprising list of foods - not just your typical yeasted favorites like bread and crackers, but also vinegars, wine, beer, liquor, cheese, and mushrooms (duh, fungi). And a lot of other things. A LOT of other things. It's something of a challenge to find interesting things to eat with such restrictions. Indian cuisine is proving a godsend in this regard.

The past few nights I have made three recipes which I have liked-slash-loved. One of the recipes I changed so much from the original, I'm not sure it's fair to call it Indian cuisine any longer, but it's still pretty darn tasty.

The lineup:
Liked: Blackeyed Peas with Butternut Squash (At Home with Madhur Jaffrey)
LOVED: Cauliflower with Potatoes aka Aloo Gobi (Epicurious)
Hacked but Still Loved (how can you not love your own kid?): Yogurt Sauce with Walnuts and Cilantro (Madhur Jaffrey Indian Cooking)

I am beginning to realize that a lot of the recipes in Indian cooking start the same way:
  1. Heat oil in a pan until shimmering
  2. Add whole spices, saute for a minute
  3. Add aromatics (usually an onion, garlic, ginger and sometimes a hot pepper) and saute until browned
  4. Add ground spices, saute for a minute
Knowing this, new recipes are starting to make more sense the first time I read them, as the process is always so similar. It's comforting, actually. I am beginning to feel like I can make anything in these books. Except maybe naan. Not quite there yet.

For the Blackeyed Peas recipe, I cannot emphasize enough how thrilled I was to take down one of the butternut squashes I got from the farm box a few months ago. It was a little on the small side, so I supplemented it with some butternut squash I had chopped and frozen from the '09 deluge of butternut. Truth be told, the frozen stuff had suffered some freezer burn and didn't taste as awesome as the fresh stuff. I think if it had, this recipe would have been outstanding.

There was one other thing I did which I think held this back from being amazing (instead of just tasty, as it was). The recipe requires soaking the blackeyed peas overnight, which I didn't do. I cheated.

Cheater, cheater, legume eater.
I know I paid the price for these substitutions in flavor, and that's a price I'm willing to pay given an acceptable end result. It's really asking a lot of me to plan dinner 24-hours in advance. I like to cook according to mood.

With those two subs, this recipe proceeds pretty much as all the others do. Again, it's published in a book rather than online, so I'm just going to give you the highlights.

Sizzle some cumin and fennel seeds in hot oil in a big pot. Add chopped onion, minced garlic, ginger, and jalapeno. I acutally used a serrano because for some reason the jalapenos at Whole Foods were gargantuan. Add a little tomato puree, handmade per Madhur Jaffrey's instructions that basically involve cutting a tomato in half and grating it on a cheese grater. Incidentally, this works great and whenever I need just a little tomato puree (1/2 cup or less) I am not opening a can ever again because all the rest of it just goes to waste. At the same time as the squash, add cayenne, salt, and butternut squash, diced. Simmer for 10ish minutes and add the canned, drained black eyed peas. Simmer another 10 minutes or so. And you produce this:

It's pretty good. The squash brings a little unexpected but not unwelcome sweetness to the dish. And the fennel seeds give it some meatiness, almost like there's sausage in here. It's really intriguing. I wish I hadn't removed the seeds and the ribs from my serrano as I would have liked a little more heat, but it was still good enough to eat for dinner and then lunch the next day.

So that was a good start for the week.

Tonight I branched out further, thanks to an unexpected farm box delivery yesterday that I thought I'd cancelled. My refrigerator is now busting at the seams with vegetables. I'm not kidding. I kind of wish I had a bunch of pet rabbits. Ok, not really, pet rabbits are totally gross. But that's how jammed full of produce my fridge is. In addition to full crisper drawers, the entire middle shelf is stacked 6 inches deep with veggies, apples, and citrus. Ah, winter.

One of the organic gifts bestown upon me this week was a head of cauliflower, which I actually love. It's so homey and hearty. Typically I like to roast mine with capers, a Martha Stewart recipe from the first cookbook I ever bought (but conveniently repeated in a 2006 magazine and therefore linked here). Sadly, capers are cured in vinegar and therefore outlawed on this yeast-free fiasco.

I was browsing Madhur's two books last night (well, the two that I own - she has written quite a few more)and ran across a recipe for Cauliflower with Potatoes. Madhur likes to use its full name so she has subtitled this recipe phool gobi aur aloo ki bhaji but when I was looking at other recipes for this online, I got clued in on its nickname: aloo gobi. Yes, I think I'll type that going forward.

In the end, it wasn't Madhur's recipe that I followed, although her ingredients are identical to the ingredients in the recipe I used. I was browsing Smitten Kitchen and found this Epicurious version of aloo gobi some time back, and it seemed far easier than Madhur's recipe which requires you both boil the potatoes and soak the cauliflower for 30 minutes. (Check out Smitten Kitchen when you have some time and are in a position to drop drool on whatever surface is in front of you. I'm not exaggerating when I say I kind of want to be this lady. I am making those goldfish crackers from today's post as soon as I can eat cheese again.)

Indian Spiced Cauliflower and Potatoes
Gourmet, February 2004

Yield: Makes 4 side-dish servings
Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes

1 (1 3/4-lb) head cauliflower, cut into 3/4-inch-wide florets
1 1/4 lb Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
5 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 teaspoons minced fresh jalapeño, including seeds
2 teaspoons minced peeled fresh ginger
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 cup water

 Accompaniment: lemon wedges

Put oven rack in upper third of oven and place a shallow baking pan on rack. Preheat oven to 475°F.

(Off to the races, and already I'm not following the directions. Absolutely forgot to preheat the baking pan. It didn't matter. I roasted the cauliflower and potatoes for an extra 5 minutes and it was fine.)
Toss cauliflower and potatoes together in a bowl with 3 tablespoons oil, cumin seeds, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Spread in hot baking pan and roast, stirring occasionally, until cauliflower is tender and browned in spots and potatoes are just tender, about 20 minutes.

While vegetables are roasting, cook onion, garlic, jalapeño, and ginger in remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until very soft and beginning to turn golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Add ground cumin, coriander, turmeric, cayenne, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring constantly, 2 minutes. Stir in water, scraping up any brown bits from bottom of skillet, then stir in roasted vegetables. Cook, covered, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes.

Yeah, that's it. Pretty easy. This reminds me of the fourth grade.

Bear with me here.

When I was in fourth grade, we got a new student in our class. This was BIG NEWS, as most of us had been in class together since kindergarten or even nursery school. Not only were we getting a new student, but she was French. As in, moving directly to our little boring suburb from FRANCE. And she didn't speak much English. Needless to say, we were all more than a little bit fascinated. A couple of months after Raphaele showed up, I remember us asking her what her favorite food was. I think we expected her to say crepes with Nutella or mousse au chocolat (actually, that's what I would have said then) or possibly the brie and baguettes that we'd snacked on in our after-school French class. No.

I will never forget this conversation because her answer was potatoes.

Potatoes? You mean french fries?
No. Potatoes.

I obviously thought she was off her rocker. What 9 year old's favorite food is potatoes? What person of any age's favorite food is potatoes?? I was not just concerned for my new friend Raphaele, I was also profoundly concerned about France as a nation, a place where potatoes could be a favorite food. Next thing you know, I'd be discovering that those pricey Louis Vuitton bags are notleather. Oh, wait...

Well. Logo bags aside, Raphaele was evidently wise beyond her years. I spent many, many years being bored by potatoes. Mashed potatoes: boring. Baked potatoes: boring except for the toppings. But mostly boring. Fries: boring except for the dipping sauce.

But first those delicious scalloped potatoes last weekend and now this Aloo gobi and I'm hooked. Potatoes, I bow to you. And, coincidentally as I type this, the fine people on America's Test Kitchen are making aligot, which is what happens when the French get a hold of potatoes and are sans mandoline but have some fromage. How could I have ever doubted them? Naive young Kate! Again, as soon as I can eat cheese again...

Anyway. Here was tonight's dinner:

It looks a little sad on its own, don't you think? I mean, this doesn't really look like dinner.

So I added a fried egg (upper left), largely because I was too lazy to poach one. That's better.
You are probably wondering what that other thing is in the picture. That's the hacked half-Indian recipe, Yogurt Sauce with Cilantro and Walnuts, served over some Bhutanese red rice. I highly recommend picking up some of this rice if you can find it in your market. Whole Foods carries it here in the Bay Area. You cook it just like brown rice but it tastes about a thousand times better and more interesting. It's nutty and flavorful and aromatic. It's almost flavorful enough to eat plain, it's that good. In fact, the other day, I did eat it plain, wiht just a little grind of sea salt. Really, this stuff is great.

The Aloo gobi was a bit spicy so I decided to make a yogurt sauce accompaniment to eat over my leftover rice as a cooling counterpoint to my spicy veggies. I flipped through Madhur Jaffrey Indian Cooking (because it is not just a cookbook, it's also a picture book) and found a recipe that had at least a few of the ingredients I had on hand. That said, this had other ingredients I totally omitted, such as jalapeno and scallion. I subbed the cayenne and garlic for those. Close enough. Here's my version, which I think is delicious nontheless.

Kate's Yogurt Sauce with Cilantro and Walnuts

Makes about 3/4 cup

1/2 cup nonfat Greek yogurt
1/4 cup cilantro, minced
1 ounce walnuts, lightly toasted and chopped
1/2 small garlic clove, minced
pinch of cayenne
salt and pepper

Mix everything. Add a little water to get a saucy consistency. I like to eat it over rice, but you could also dip pita or naan in it. The end.

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