My First Indian Cooking Adventure in India, Unsupervised

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Today I’m breaking my food blog hiatus with a little something called Indian Cooking.

After living here for three months (I’ll be here until next summer) and having absolutely NO motivation to cook…

(reasons/excuses why: I live with a South Indian roommate, who loves to cook; food here is very inexpensive [we can get dinner for two for about $3 and be satisfied], the kitchen is different (no oven, different cooking vessels like a tawa, pressure cooker, etc); lack of familiar ingredients (curry leaves? mustard seeds? fenugreek?)

… I have broken the cycle. And no longer will subsist on yogurt (dahi) by the gallon and fruits, or order in, when left to my own devices.

Aside: I went to the veggie man two stores down from us and he was super nice and helped me pick out the fresh veggies, which happened to be okra.

With roomie gone for the day and evening, and doing the best I could to remember her techniques, I made …

Okra Subzi with Chapati

Adapted from Life.

Chapati Ingredients:

Some amount of whole wheat flour (maybe 1.5-2 cups)?

1 teaspoon ghee

pinch or two of salt

1/2 cup of warm water

Subzi Ingredients:

1/4 kg okra (bindhi), chopped into two or three pieces each

1 tomato, chopped in smallish pieces

2 potatoes, chopped in similar sized pieces at the tomato

Optional: 1 green chili, with or without seeds removed, depending on your spice tolerance (I omitted)

1 tablespoon your favorite cooking oil

1 tablespoon unsalted ghee

2 teaspoons mustard seeds

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 handful curry leaves

a few pinches of salt

Directions:

In a bowl, add the flour and mix with the salt and the ghee. Make a little well and add the water, a bit at a time, until you have a workable dough. Knead with your hands. Cover with a cloth and let ferment for 25 minutes or more. Once fermented, make little round balls of dough about 1-1.5 inches in diameter.

Heat oil in a cooking vessel like the one in the pictures, or in a normal pan. Add the potatoes, and allow to cook for a bit and get a little brown and crispy on the edges. Add the okra and cook. Splash some water into the pan to “deglaze”, stir/scrape down, and cover to let everything soften. Add the tomatoes after a bit and mix.

In a separate pan, heat the ghee. Test it out with a small mustard seed; if it sizzles in the pan it’s ready. Add the mustard seeds and immediately take off the heat, allowing to cook a little bit. Add the cumin seeds and curry leaves, stir, let sizzle. Add the turmeric and ground cumin and mix.

Add the above to the okra mixture and combine; continue to let cook until veggies are cooked through.

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For the chapati, roll out each dough ball. I don’t know what I did wrong, I think the dough was a bit too dry. You should try to aim for nice and round chapatis. I however decided to go the entertaining route and make all kinds of shapes!

Heat a tawa over medium heat. Once hot, place the chapati and cook halfway through. If you see bubbles forming, great! You can use a dishtowel to push down on these bubbles to try to get them to spread throughout the bread. Flip it and cook the other side.

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My first chapati ALL BY MA SELF. *beams* DSCN1196

Once cooked, place on a plate and if desired, spread some ghee on it. The ghee helps with flavor and helps it not dry out. Let’s just say I put a substantial amount of ghee on these.

Continue in this manner until all the chapatis are done. Always cover with a dishcloth or with a lid of some sort to prevent drying out.

To serve, spoon some subzi, two or three chapatis, and a dollop of yogurt onto your South Indian-style thali (plate).

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And dig in.

Below are some fun photos of my first time trying the process.

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I got a LOT of bubbles with this one!

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Notice the jar of ghee in the back. It did not go un-used.

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I was so taken and distracted by the bubbles that I burned it. :(

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Me pointing out my beads of sweat. It’s kinda humid here in good ol’ Mumbai. I can pretend cooking is a workout.

My chapatis were so odd. I decided to nickname them all.

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“Crab claw”

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“Actually Decent/Amoebic”

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“An Old Woman Looking To the Right” (see the big nose?)

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“One of Those Psychology Inkblot Things”

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“Mitten for Double-Thumbed Person”

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“Budding Yeast”

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“Don’t Mess With Deformed Texas”

Sadly, my first chapati attempt came out more like pita chips. Nothing a little ghee can’t fix. But I will hone ma skillz and wow you all in due time. I thoroughly enjoyed my first attempt!

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Also, sorry for the horrid quality on the photos. Internet speed/access is a whole diatribe I won’t get started on right now…

I’ve attempted Indian cooking before, at home in the US, and I definitely don’t know what I’m doing. You can check them out anyway:

Aloo Gobi Mattar, take One and Two

Sweet Potato Chocolate Chip Cookies

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So, uh, with eight days left until I returned home for Christmas break, I decided to go ahead and bake the bejeezus out of eight sweet potatoes. One potato per day: a perfect plan. My plan, however, was not perfectly executed, and I found myself with six baked sweet potatoes left… and just two more days til returning home to the dirty jerz.

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But, as life so happens, I found myself juggling six sweet potatoes and an invite to a cookie swap party.

Me: “I don’t know what to make… Coconut macaroons it is! Oh wait, I have… one egg… and… no coconut. Hmm…”

Friend (Elaine): “How about sweet potato cookies?”

Dingdingding.

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I laughed it off. Sweet potato cookies? What? Crazy talk!

So crazy, it just might work… (reference: The Master of Disguise.)

And work, they did. I was totally inceptioned. YUM. Other pros: One-bowl, lack-of-mixer-friendly, super easy for grad school.

Sweet Potato Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from this recipe
Two sweet potatoes, baked in the skin for 1 hour at least
Scant 3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
3/4 cup old-fashioned or quick cooking oats
1 cup sliced almonds (or pecans)
1/2 cup chocolate chips (I cut up an 85% dark chocolate bar. I think these would also work with cacao nibs!)
Coarse sea salt, for sprinklage

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Mix butter and sugar together; use a pastry cutter if without a mixer. Mash in the sweet potato (without the skins). Add egg and combine.

Add dry ingredients directly to the wet, and then almonds. Drop by teaspoonfuls on parchment-paper-lined pan. Press out into flat discs slightly, then sprinkle chocolate chips on top (or alternatively, mix chocolate chips in to cookie dough first).

Bake 10-20 minutes (10-12 for original recipe; it took much longer in our defunct apartment oven). Once done, top with some sea salt while still warm.

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They were really flaky and yummy. Crispy on the outside, chewy inside, the chocolate merely a subtle accent without overpowering the sweet potato. They went over well at the cookie party (which was also super fun! And, all the delicious cookies were totally nutritionally balanced by carrot sticks and guac apps. We aren’t in the Nutrition Department for nothing)!

You can brag about the beta carotene content, flavanols from the dark chocolate, heartiness of whole wheat flour, extra minerals of the sea salt (barely enough to make a difference, but whatever)… and just neglect to mention the sugah and buttah. Well, at least, that’s what I did. Enjoy the yams. I mean, yums.

Mediterranean Crostini with Lemon Parmesan Kale

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“Hmm, I think I’ll make tuna salad for dinner.”

- Jenn, Roommate #1.

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So much for that! Being two nutrition-/cooking-oriented people (Roomie #2, also nutrition, went away on vaycay, but missed a pretty fantabulous meal), what started out as a simple tuna salad quickly gave way to something a little more… gourmet.

A little bit of chopping, toasting, and sautéing later… and dinner was a REALLY delicious sourdough crostini, topped with red pepper, tomato, olives, feta, and mushrooms, with a little kale salad on the side.

SO. GOOD. And very filling, a perfect veggiecentric entrée, or if in a smaller amount, a satisfying appy.

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And kinda ridiculously easy.

Mediterranean Crostini with Lemon Parmesan Kale

Serves four normal people or two hungry roommates

Adapted from Eating Well

1 small tomato or 1/2 medium/large tomato
1/2 cup roasted red pepper, sliced into strips
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped black olives
1/4 cup crumbled feta
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1-3 garlic cloves, minced
2-3 tablespoons of olive oil, separated (we used yummy tarragon-flavored EVOO from F. Oliver’s)
10-12 baby bella mushrooms, sliced
4 slices of sourdough bread

Salad:
1/4-1/2 bunch tender summer kale, roughly chopped
1 lemon, juiced
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 tablespoons grated parmesan

Mix the tomatoes, olives, feta, roasted red pepper, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, oregano, and red wine vinegar in a small  bowl. Set aside.

Mix the garlic and 1-2 tablespoons olive oil in a small bowl. Spread some on each slice of sourdough bread. Use the remaining (and a little extra if necessary) to sauté the mushrooms until tender and cooked. Mix the mushrooms into the tomato mixture.

Whisk together the lemon juice, and olive oil, and parmesan. Toss with the kale (use your hands).

Toast each sourdough piece and top with the mushroom/tomato mixture, try to drain out most of the juice/sauce so the bread doesn’t get too soggy. Serve with the kale salad, and you can drizzle the aforementioned juice onto the kale salad for extra flavor.

Pretty freakin’ delectable.

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We were pleasantly surprised at how filling these turned out! This dish was very tangy and flavorful, with just the right amount of saltiness from the cheese, sourness from the vinegar, and bright citrus from the lemon. The sourdough had perfectly crispy crust and soft tender inside for sopping up extra dressing and juice.

The only problem? Oodles of dishes. Good thing we’re all neat freaks over here.

Cheddar Cauliflower Soup with Frizzled Leeks

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Crispy pan-fried leek greens top this satisfying soup that works for lunch, dinner, or even breakfast… if you’re feeling adventurous. I’d stick with lunch or dinner.

Today, I plated this soup in in the beautiful ceramic bowl that my lovely chica Sarah made for me. Earthy blue glaze coats the inside, with a metallic bronze on the outside. It is absolutely perfect for yogurt, cereal, soup, *cough* ice cream *cough*. Ice cream? Who said that?

Anyway, this girl is seriously multi-talented–cooks, bakes, ceramic-izes, and is going for her Master’s in Nutrition. You go, girl. I love my ceramics dishware and I shall be the envy of all when I go to Ithaca this Fall!

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Um… back to the soup. It was deliciously cheesy and had an amazingly creamy, decadent mouth-feel. By not puréeing the cauliflower and leek, the soup still retained some texture and bite. Topped with a garnish of frizzled leeks, all this soup needed was some sourdough bread. Sadly, I had none. But keep that in mind.

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This was a winnah.

Cheddar Cauliflower Soup with Frizzled Leeks

Adapted from Eating Well

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 small or medium sized leeks, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced and rinsed well [save the greens!]
1 head of cauliflower, chopped into florets that are bite-sized
2 1/2 cups low-fat milk, divided
3 cups water
1 cup soy milk or milk + 1/2 cup soy milk or milk
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon white or black pepper
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups shredded extra-sharp Cheddar cheese
1 tablespoon lemon juice

In a large nonstick saucepan, sauté the leek in the oil until soft (5 minutes). Add the cauliflower, water, 1 cup milk, bay leaf, salt, pepper. Bring to a boil over medium heat, reduce and simmer about 8 minutes or until cauliflower is soft and tender.  Remove the bay leaf.

In a small bowl, whisk the remaining 1/2 cup milk and flour.  Add to cauliflower mixture. Cook about 2 more minutes, until thickened. Remove from heat, and stir in cheese and lemon juice.

Serve with an optional garnish of frizzled leeks:

Frizzled Leeks

Adapted from technique by Vegetable a Month Club

Leek greens, cleaned and thinly julienned
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

In a cold saucepan, add oil, leek greens, and salt and pepper. Use your fingertips to toss the leeks and get them coated evenly in oil. Spread in an even layer, try to not overlap the greens.

Turn on the heat to medium-low and be patient. Once the leeks become golden brown on one side, flip and frizzle on the other side. Continue to stir and cook until they are as golden brown everywhere as possible. Drain on paper towels.

They will be crunchy and delicious! Sprinkle on each serving of soup.

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Deeeeelish.

Cooking with Beer: Beer Bread and Vegetarian Chili

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So we had some nonalcoholic beer in the fridge that I purchased to recreate beer-battered squash flowers and beer-battered avocado fries and so, I used the magic powers of Google to find some uses for it (because just drinking it would be boring).

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I found two recipes — a beer bread recipe and a vegetarian chili recipe — that fit the bill. And both are easy as could be–essentially, you just throw everything together, let it cook or bake for a while, and sit back and enjoy an episode of Entourage or two on DVD. Simple.

 Lucky for me, the day I made these was uncharacteristically cold (around 75–it felt like a deep freezer after the >95 week we’d had earlier) and so having the oven and stove running was actually comforting instead of sweat-inducing.

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The bread came out delicious–subtly sweet from the brown sugar, with a delicious crust and tender inside. The chili was a bit of an experiment, and I’m happy to report it too hit the spot–three bean, tofu, spice-heavy. Just what the doctor ordered.

Chili and homemade bread. Perfecto comfort meal.

DSCN4411Without further ado:

Beer Bread

Adapted from this recipe

2 cups whole wheat flour

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/3 cup brown sugar

4 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

12 ounces beer

Oven: 350°F. Grease and flour a 9.5×13″ loaf pan.

Sift the flours and combine with sugar, baking soda, and salt. Add in the beer and stir to combine. Pour into loaf pan, smooth out, bake 55-60 minutes or until toothpick is clean when inserted and removed from the bread.

Optional: before baking, pour 2 tablespoons of melted butter on top.

Vegetarian Chili

Adapted from this recipe

28 ounces of canned tomatoes (or fresh)

1 15-ounce can garbanzos

1 15-ounce can kidney beans

1 15-ounce can chickpeas

1 cup or half a block tofu, crumbled

1 cup tomato sauce

2 tablespoons chili powder

2 tablespoons cumin seed

1 tablespoon turmeric

sprinkle of parsley

spices to your liking (ginger, etc)

1 12-ounce can of beer

plain greek yogurt, for serving

Combine everything but yogurt in large saucepan. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 20-25 minutes. Serve with a dollop of yogurt.

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This was a really, really good meal. Satisfying. Vegan if you omit the yogurt. See the melty butter (er, earth balance)… mm. It’s melty because that bread is still warm from the oven–what a rare luxury to eat homemade crusty bread. No wonder it’s all gone (within two days). The beer bread goes deliciously with the chili… even if it’s not a cold winter night. Summer has some chilly days too. And the chilly days are perfect… for chili. See what I did there…?

Banana Bread: Sugar Free, Grain Free

 

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Back to the dish that started it all.

The humble banana bread. I think this was the first thing that I made, as a kid, “all by myself.” It was tasty, and used up the bananas we had from Grandma Huey. Oodles of banana breads have come out of my kitchen: sugar-free, fat free, sugar-/fat-laden, with/without nuts, mashed bananas, pureed bananas, with/without raisins, but never with chocolate, oddly.

Usually they were spot-on. Sometimes they were lumpy, with all the goods sinking to the bottom. Oftentimes they were seemed cooked on the outside, only to reveal a doughy mess on the inside. The tried-and-true banana bread, from the Family Fun cookbook, contained too much butter and sugar for my liking.

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And then I came across this recipe!

Perfect. Only dates and bananas sweeten this batter. Six eggs are a must to moisten the ever-absorbent coconut flour. Coconut flour is fiber-rich, and soaks up liquid like nobody’s business. Almond meal makes up the rest of this bread. According to the original author, one slice has 150 calories, 18 carbs,  4 grams of fiber and 5 grams of protein — not bad, plus tons of vitamins and minerals from the whole foods included in this bread. There’s no added fat to boot! Could this be possible?

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Yes. This banana bread was unbelievable light, fluffy, airy… and still moist and tender. Delicate, but sliceable/won’t fall apart. Its subtle sweetness, a perfect complement for jellies or preserves.

Enjoy.

Banana Bread: Sugar Free, Grain Free

Adapted from Girl Gone Country

Scant 1 cup raw almonds

4 small bananas (totaling 10 ounces)

6-8 pitted Medjool dates (totaling about 5 ounces) (soaked is ideal, but not necessary)

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon vinegar

1 teaspoon baking soda

6 tablespoons coconut flour

Preheat oven to 350°F. Use a silicone pan or line a loaf pan with parchment, or grease/flour a loaf pan (9 x 13)

Add the almonds to the food processor and process until meal-like (about 2-3 minutes).

Add everything else but the coconut flour and process for 1 minute.

Break up any clumps in the coconut flour with a fork, and add to mixture. Process for 30 seconds.

[If you want, sprinkle some raw almonds on the bottom of the loaf pan before you pour in the batter for a garnish!]

Pour into prepared loaf pan. Bake 55-65 minutes.

Done when a toothpick or knife comes out clean.

Top with Earth balance (or butter, or coconut butter) and jelly, or peanut butter, or whatever your stomach desires.

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Absolutely delicious! The texture is just amazing. Even though I burnt the outside (first time using my pretty new IKEA silicone loaf pan), it wasn’t noticeable and the inside more than made up for it. Definitely will keep this recipe in the “make again” list.

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Yellow Zucchini Tarte Fine (with yogurt-based, whole wheat crust and yogurt-pesto sauce)

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I think my favorite way to cook is to…

A) Use up ingredients that are… on their last leg.

B) Use up ingredients that are in major surplus.

C) Cook an ingredient that I have never cooked before… or better yet, seen!

D) All of the above.

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Answer D. But today, we’re having fun with C.

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I guess Yellow Zucchini isn’t totally outlandish. But I’d never seen it before. Zucchinis are green! Not only was this yellow, this zucchini was yellow – super bright, golden yellow, even more so than our mainstay summer squashes.  I got one from a local farmer’s market, but I didn’t know what I’d do with it. It would have to be something interesting, new, exciting….

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So I did a little digging and found this lovely recipe on Chocolate and Zucchini.

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Check out that crusssstttt

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But as usual, I did some tweaking.

Yellow Zucchini Tarte Fine (with yogurt based, whole wheat crust and yogurt-pesto sauce)

Adapted from Chocolate and Zucchini

Crust:

180 grams or 1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

120 grams or 1/2 cup Greek yogurt

1/4 cup (half a stick) unsalted butter, cold, diced

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 egg

Topping:

2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

1 cup yogurt, mixed with 1/4 cup basil pesto

a dozen fresh basil leaves

1 yellow zucchini, about 10 ounces or two very small zucchinis, mandolined into thin rounds

salt to taste

Place flour in a medium bowl, and make a well in the center. Add yogurt and diced butter and salt. Using two knives or a pastry cutter, cut the butter (by slicing the knives together) and combine with flour. I eventually used my hands to really get that butter merged with flour–not sure if this is proper, but it worked. Form into a small disc and wrap in plastic wrap; chill for an hour or up to a day.

Allow the dough to come to just below room temperature. Place on parchment paper, add another piece of parchment on top, and roll out thinly. Crimp the edges.

Sprinkle toasted sesame seeds all over, and place parchment paper back on and roll a few times to ingrain them into the dough. Yay sesame-seed-flavored, crunchy crust!

Leave the top piece of parchment on. Put baking beans all over to weigh it down, or dried kidney beans. You can probably leave them off if you don’t have any.

Bake at 360° (not 350!) for 25 minutes.

Beat egg. Brush egg wash on crust. Bake two more minutes.

Allow to cool completely.

Meanwhile, grill zucchini, or leave raw, if fresh enough; I chose to grill.

Next, spread the yogurt mixture thickly all over. Top with zucchini rounds. Sprinkle basil leaves and leftover sesame seeds, if you have them, on top. Cut with a kitchen scissor (my favorite apparatus for pizza and the like) and SERVE!

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So good. The crust–flaky, light, delicate yet rustic, which superb flavor from the sesame and butter. The crust held up well, even after a few hours of having been assembled with the topping ingredients. You can’t even tell yogurt is in the crust. Whole wheat pastry flour wins again!

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Combination of ingredients–also delicious. The caramelization of the zucchini rounds truly brought out their sweetness and elevated the dish. Just a wonderful play of flavors and textures. Would totally make again.

tartecollage

prebaked / posteggwash / readyformangia