Monday, June 30, 2008

Chana Dal with Cucumbers and Kale

I love kale. I mean, I really, really love it, with a passion that is deep, pure and abiding. In my humble opinion, it makes pretty much everything better, with the possible exception of oatmeal raisin cookies, but then again I haven't tried that, so I can't be sure. Anyway, this recipe is heavily adapted from Madhur Jaffrey: so heavily, in fact, that about the only things they still have in common are chana dal and cucumber. That said, I believe in giving credit where it's due, rendering unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, etc. In any case, when I was first thinking about making this recipe, it occurred to me that it would be vastly improved by the addition of--you guessed it--KALE! And boy, was I right. Served with basmati rice (we are currently sort of obsessed with FORBIDDEN RICE, which tastes great, in addition to its astonishing purple color), mashed sweet potato, extra garlicky greens and/or spicy stir-fried okra and some hot pickle on the side, this is one of our favorite dinners.

~1 tbsp. mustard oil
~1 tsp. each: mustard and cumin seeds
~2 tbsp. minced garlic
~1 tbsp. minced ginger
~1 tsp each: garam masala, curry powder, fenugreek, sea salt
~1/2 tsp. each: cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cayenne pepper
~Fresh black pepper to taste
~1.5 cups chopped shallots
~1.5 cups rinsed chana dal (or lentils, or a combination: go crazy!)
~8 cups chopped kale
~3 cups chopped, seeded cucumber 
~5 cups vegetable broth

~In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, warm the oil over medium-high heat and add the mustard and cumin seeds. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon until they begin to sizzle and pop.
~Add garlic and ginger and saute another minute or two.
~Add shallots and seasonings, and cook until the shallots turn glassy, about 3-5 minutes. Use a splash of water or broth if necessary to keep the mixture from sticking. 
~Add the chana dal and mix well to make sure everything is combined and coated with the spices. Saute another 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly.
~Add the vegetable broth and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer.
~Cover and cook over low heat for about an hour, stirring occasionally.
~Add the cucumber and kale, mixing thoroughly; replace the lid and cook 15-20 minutes longer, or until you've achieved a fairly thick, stew-like consistency.

Serve over steamed rice with your favorite pickle and/or chutney: yummy!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

O, for a muse of fire!

...that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention (or at least give me something interesting to write in this, my first ever blog post). I've been toying with the idea of starting a blog for awhile now, because it seems to me the ideal marriage of modern technology and the apparently primal urge to record our thoughts and experiences. Through my late teens and into my early 20s, I faithfully kept a journal, in which I recorded my adolescent angst, staggering insights, and the occasional attempt at awful poetry (the latter of which were actually pretty successful, if awfulness was in fact my goal). There was also copious retro-hippieish doodling of random organic shapes, but interspersed with this baser matter was some serious introspection and self-examination - always dear to the heart of any nascent writer - so my journal was often a useful tool in Figuring Things Out. I've always found that writing things down, whether by hand or keyboard, helps clarify my thoughts: the act of committing ideas to an external medium allows them to (apparently) organize themselves.

These days, I'm feeling fairly self-aware and on top of who I am, my place in the world, and what I want to accomplish in it - at least, more than I was at the age of 20, which is still sayin' summat. One of my main objectives in starting this blog is to further explore and share two of my primary passions: vegan cooking and Elizabethan/early modern literature, history, and material culture, including the areas in which they intersect. So maybe Gervase Markham will be veganized (or maybe not), but other stuff will inevitably filter in. I sincerely doubt that I'll be divulging intimate details shared by the likes of Samuel Pepys, but my hope is that this will be an interesting, educational, and maybe even entertaining experience. Hell, even if no-one else reads it, god knows I love shooting my mouth off; all I've ever needed is a forum in which to do so.

A few things about me will suffice to get us to (yes!) my first recipe, which will have to appear in my next post because tempus fugit, etc. As the daughter of an English mother and a Greek father, I grew up exposed to very solid ideas about cultural identity. Both my parents were amazing cooks, but very conventionally meat-and-dairy centered, and their respective childhoods in WWII England (my mom) and Depression-era Chicago  (my dad, one of 12 children!) ensured that neither of them was what you'd call "picky" when it came to foodstuffs. I swear there is probably no part of an animal that either of them wouldn't have tried at least once. My mother's strong personality, and my own interest in all things medieval and early modern, resulted in my own identification with England and Englishness, and one of the primary ways this has been expressed is through food, that greatest of cultural signifiers. Welsh rarebit, Cornish pasties, savory pies, scones with cream and jam, bread and butter pudding...who doesn't love this stuff? Of course, almost none of it is anywhere close to vegan, but that doesn't mean that it can't be. So stay tuned, and let's see if we can't drag that sceptered isle's culinary traditions into this Brave New Vegan World!

Friendly Shepherd's Pie

This is my fail-safe recipe for Shepherd's Pie, sans the sheep. It's hearty, comforting, filled with lovely vegetables, and virtually guaranteed to transport you to a dim, half-timbered pub, where a friendly dog naps before an open fire and the barman has ten Real Ales and some lethal local cider on draught. If the weather is fine, there might even be some morris dancing out back, assuming you're into that kind of thing!

Friendly Shepherd's Pie

~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 2 tbsp. garlic, minced
~ 1 tbsp vegan bouillon (I used Better Than Bouillon) dissolved in 1/4 cup boiling water>
~ 2 cups chopped onion
~ 1 cup each: diced carrots and celery
~ 3 cups chopped mushrooms
~ 1/2 cup frozen peas
~ 1 12 oz. package firm silken tofu (I used Mori-Nu), coarsely mashed
~ 1 1/2 tsp. each: thyme, sage, tarragon, parsley
~ 1 tsp. each: sea salt, fresh black pepper; more pepper to taste
~ 2 tbsp. nutritional yeast
~ 1 prepared whole-wheat pie crust
~ A big batch of your favorite mashed potato recipe, because you can never have too much!

~ Preheat oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit.
~ Saute onions in oil over medium-high heat, about 5 minutes.
~ Add garlic, celery, carrots and seasonings and saute another 5-7 minutes, adding bouillon mixture gradually to prevent sticking.
~ Add the mushrooms and cook everything down to a nice, smooshy brownness; about 15-20 minutes, stirring pretty constantly.
~ Add the tofu, peas and nutritional yeast; continue cooking until well combined and still slightly moist.
~ Pour into pie crust and top with a layer of mashed potato.
~ Cover with foil and bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.
~ Remove foil and drizzle 1-2 tbsp. melted Earth Balance or other vegan margarine mixed with some paprika over the top, dragging the tines of a fork around to make pretty patterns.
~ Return to oven and bake uncovered another 10-15 minutes, until golden brown and lovely.
~ Serve with extra mashed potato, mushy peas, roasted carrots, the vegan gravy of your choice (I like mushroom gravy - recipe below) and a nice pint of bitter. Rule Brittania, dudes!

Mushroom Gravy

~ 2 tbsp. olive oil, divided
~ 1 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 2 cups chopped mushrooms
~ 2-3 tbsp. flour
~ 1 cup plain, unsweetened soy or other non-dairy milk
~ 1 cup vegetable broth
~ 1 tsp. each salt, thyme, sage, dried parsley
~ Lots of fresh black pepper

~ Combine the soy milk and vegetable broth and heat to almost boiling, either on the stove or in the microwave.
~ In a skillet, saute the garlic, mushrooms and seasonings over medium heat until softened, about 5-10 minutes.
~ In a saucepan, warm the oil over medium-low heat and add the flour and the spices, stirring to make a roux.
~ As it begins to thicken, add about 1/2 cup of the broth/soy milk mixture, stirring until smooth.
~ Add the sauteed vegetables and then, gradually, the remaining liquid, stirring constantly as it begins to thicken.
~ Raise the heat to medium and continue cooking 5-10 minutes, until you get the consistency you like (you can always add more liquid if it's too thick, or turn the heat up to reduce it if it's not thick enough).