Monday, July 27, 2009

Mega-Huge Indian Feast

After a few weeks in the UK, the gentle reader would be forgiven for thinking we might have had our temporary fill of Indian food...but they would be wrong (oh, so wrong)! The fact that even the teensiest, tiniest village can boast several good--and often excellent--Indian restaurants is one of the many things to love about England, even if you aren't vegan. If you are, however, it's a positive boon, because the variety of regional, subcontinental cuisines available means that not only will you never go hungry, there will always be something new to try. It took a few days to get over the jet-lag, reacclimate to "real life," catch up with the {{shudder}} bills, etc., but by the end of the week I was ready to get back in the kitchen and cook some serious food. The first two dishes are adapted from the awesome and invaluable Lord Krishna's Cuisine: The Art Of Indian Vegetarian Cooking, by Yamuna Devi; the rice is my own fevered invention, and the raita is a mash-up of several different recipes. If you don't have access to a good Indian market, you have my A. genuine sympathy, and B. encouragement to have a go anyway. Substitute bay for curry leaves, lemon juice for chaat masala, cayenne for the fresh chilis, etc. The flavors are so complex and enticing that you're sure to wind up with something wonderful (and if you live on a leafy New England street like mine, sending the seductive aromas of several different dishes wafting into the BBQ-laden suburban air only makes it better...)!

So. First up, we have:

Tamatar Kabli Chana Usal (Savory Chickpeas in Tangy Tomato Glaze)
Soaking time: 8 hours or overnight (if using dried chickpeas; you could use canned, but it won't be as good!)
Total cooking time: 2-3 hours

1.5 cups dried chickpeas (or about 4 cups drained, canned)
6 cups water
4 tbsp. oil (I used canola for all these dishes)
1.5 tsp. scraped, minced fresh ginger root
1.5 tsp. minced hot green chili
1.5 tsp. cumin seeds
½ mustard seeds
8 -12 fresh curry leaves, coarsely chopped
5 medium-sized tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. chaat masala (or 2 tsp. fresh lemon juice)
1 tsp. garam masala
2 tsp. ground fenugreek
¼ cup minced coarsely chopped coriander leaves (or parsley)

~ Place the chickpeas in a bowl, add 6 cups of water and soak for at least 8 hours or overnight at room temperature.
~ Place the chickpeas and their soaking liquid in a heavy 3-4 quart saucepan, add about a tbsp. of oil and bring to a full boil over high heat.
~ Reduce the heat to moderately low, cover with a tight-fitting lid and gently boil for 1-2 hours or until the chickpeas are soft but not broken down. Remove the lid. Drain the chickpeas, saving the cooking liquid.
~ Heat the oil in a heavy 3-quart saucepan over moderate to moderately high heat. When it is hot, stir in the ginger root, green chili, cumin seeds and black mustard seeds. Fry until the cumin seeds turn brown.
~ Drop in the curry leaves, and just 1-2 seconds later stir in the tomatoes. Add the salt, turmeric, chaat masala, garam masala, fenugreek and half of the minced coriander. Stir-fry over moderate heat, adding sprinkles of water if necessary to prevent sticking, for 15-20 minutes or until the oil separates from the sauce and the texture is smooth and even.
~ Add the chickpeas and ¼ cup of the saved cooking liquid. Reduce the heat to low, cover and gently simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. If necessary, add small quantities of the chickpea cooking water to keep the mixture from sticking to the saucepan, but you want the tomato mixture to reduce to a thick glaze that coats the chickpeas, rather than a liquidy sauce.
~ Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining minced herb.


Gobhi Hari Matar Sabji (Sauteed Cauliflower & Green Peas)

4 tbsp. oil
1 tbsp. minced ginger
1.5 tsp. cumin seeds
1 bay leaf, crumbled
1 large (about 3 lbs) cauliflower head, trimmed, cored and cut into flowerets
1/2 tsp. turmeric
Heaping 1/4 tsp. cayenne or paprika
1/4 cup chopped cilantro, split in half
1.5 cups peas (I used frozen)
1.5 cups sliced okra (my addition, I used frozen)
2-4 tbsp. water
1/2 tsp. salt, plus more to taste
1/3 cup plain soy yogurt

~ Heat the oil in a large pot until it is hot but not smoking. Add the cumin seeds and crumbled bay leaf and roast them in though oil until they have darkened and are fragrant.
~ Add the ginger and fry it for about one minute, stirring.
~ Add the cauliflower and stir-fry it, tossing, for a minute. Sprinkle it with the cilantro, turmeric and cayenne/paprika. Stir fry until the cauliflower has lightly browned.
~ Add the water and the frozen okra, cover and reduce the heat to low. Cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
~ Add the frozen peas and cook another 5-10 minutes.
~ Turn off the heat, add the remaining cilantro and the yogurt, and toss. Taste for salt and serve.


Saffron/Cashew/Coconut Rice:

2 cups lite coconut milk
1 cup water or vegetable broth
1/2 tsp. saffron threads
2 tbsp. oil
1/2 cup chopped, raw cashews
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. salt
1.5 cups basmati rice, rinsed and soaked for about 30 minutes (you don't have to rinse & soak the rice, but it makes it nicer)

~ Heat the coconut milk and water almost to boiling, sprinkle in the saffron, and set aside for at least 10-15 minutes.
~ In a saucepan, warm the oil over medium heat and add the cashews. Cook, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes, until they begin to brown.
~ Add the cinnamon, cumin, turmeric, salt and rice; continue to cook another 2-3 minutes, until the rice becomes fragrant.
~ Add the saffron/liquid mixture, cover and bring to a boil, then lower the heat to simmer.
~ Cook on low heat for 15 minutes; uncover and fluff with a fork before serving.

And last, though not least:

Cucumber Mint Raita

1 large English cucumber, peeled and coarsely grated
2 cups plain soy yogurt
1/3 cup chopped, fresh mint
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
Fresh black pepper to taste

~ Wrap the grated cucumber in a few paper towels and squeeze dry.
~ Whisk the yogurt, mint, salt, cumin, and cayenne pepper together in a bowl.
~ Add the grated cucumber and mix thoroughly. Season raita to taste with extra salt and pepper if desired.
~ Cover and refrigerate 1-2 hours.

Dish it all up with some sweet and/or spicy pickle and (ideally) cold beer or dry white wine. Best of all, this will make a ton of food, and since all of these dishes are pretty filling, you'll be sure to have leftovers!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Bubble and Squeak

For a change, this post is not about food; in fact, it is emphatically not about food. It is, instead, about animals, particularly pigs (with some references to dogs, cats, chickens, horses, pheasants and bunnies thrown in). My family has just returned from our annual trip to England, which is, among other things, a great chance to go for rambles along leafy country lanes lined with hedgerows, and to meet/observe local animals. This year we stayed in a converted barn on a farm in Henley-in-Arden, where we met Bubble and Squeak, two enormously affectionate and charming Koona Koona pigs, a mid-sized, long-haired breed from New Zealand. They're both female and extremely friendly; whenever a person approaches, they come running over (grunting winningly) to have their ears and bellies scratched, and will take food right out of your hand. The owners of the farm bought them to crop grass and for "entertainment value," which they certainly provide: every day we'd head outside to say good morning to them, as well as visits throughout the day amidst our comings and goings. They each have very distinct personalities, Bubble being the sort of alpha-female, Squeak the more laid-back and affectionate, flopping on her side to be petted. It was really fun getting to spend so much time with them, and to see how very much like dogs they are in terms of the way they respond to human attention.

There were also mother and daughter horses (Maggie and Adara, the latter being a beautiful 6 week old foal with a penchant for tossing her head and running around with a sort of "look what I can do!" enthusiasm whenever we went near her), one shaggy cat and two chickens whose names we didn't catch, two retrievers (Pippa and Cassie), some pheasants, and innumerable bunnies hopping in and out of the hedgerows. All in all, it was a pretty idyllic week in a lovely, tranquil setting; the kind of thing that makes you think about chucking it all and going to live in the country. I mention all this not merely in the interest of composing a travelogue, but because the more time I spend with a greater variety of animals, the more impressed I am at their personality, their intelligence, their individualism, and the more incredulous I feel at many people's inability to recognize every living creature's innate imperative (indeed, their right) to stay alive, to live out their existence in a natural way. If, as we so often hear, humans are at the "top" of the "food chain," shouldn't that oblige us to behave as stewards to the animals to whom we judge ourselves superior, rather than preying upon them out of a misguided sense of entitlement, for profit and/or what amounts to nothing more than a gastronomic preference? I realize that I'm stating the obvious, that anyone who bothers reading my blog is probably already on board with this idea, and in any case I'm not really interested in preaching, even to the choir. For the most part my version of activism has stressed being positive and approachable, trying to set a good example while remaining open to conversation, and wooing people with delicious vegan food. But I'm increasingly aware that it's vital to actually spend time with the animals who are too often dismissed as "food" in our culture: it's not only huge fun, it's a powerful reminder of the millions of lives at stake, of the importance of what we are doing as vegans, and (most importantly) of how much more needs to be changed. So keep being excellent to each other, and if you get the chance to hang out with some pigs, take it; you won't be sorry!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Stuffed Peppers

Remember the days of the electric skillet? Yea, verily: that ubiquitous fixture of the 1970s countertop, rendered in shades of avocado, russet, and harvest gold, within whose Teflon innards dinner bubbled away to the televised accompaniment of Mike Douglas or the 5 o'clock news! In my house, the skillet was a rusty red, and seemed always to hold one of the following: chicken cacciatore, pork chops "hunter style," or stuffed peppers (all of which featured tomato sauce, onions, and rather-less-than-expensive meat). Of the three, the peppers were my hands-down favorite, partly because they were always served with rice, which was unusual in our potato-centric family. Recently, when trying to use up perishables before going away for a few weeks, I realized that my refrigerator held all the necessary ingredients to recreate this childhood classic (aside from the hamburger component of Mom's version, obviously). I can't remember the last time I saw an electric skillet, but the aroma of these peppers baking away in the oven managed to bring me right back to a rainy afternoon in my parents' kitchen.

Stuffed Peppers
~ 4 large bell peppers (green, red, yellow, you choose)
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 2 cups chopped onion
~ 1 cup each: diced carrot, chopped yellow summer squash
~ 1 tsp. each: kosher salt, oregano, basil, thyme, parsley
~ Fresh black pepper
~ 1/2 cup fresh, chopped parsley
~ 1 28 oz. can fire-roasted tomatoes, drained
~ 12 oz. veggie crumbles or similar; I mashed up a package of Trader Joe's meatless meatballs 
~ 1 quart red sauce (marinara, or whatever you like)

~ In a large skillet or wok, heat the oil over medium heat and add the onions. Saute for 3 minutes.
~ Add the garlic, carrots, squash, and dried seasonings; stir to combine and cook another 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
~ Add the parsley, tomatoes, and veggie crumbles or meatballs. Combine thoroughly and cover. Reduce heat to low and cook about 10 minutes.
~ Pour in 2 cups of the red sauce, raise heat to medium, and cook uncovered another 10-15 minutes, until you get a sloppy-joe-like texture. Remove from heat and set aside.
~ Now, for the peppers! Cut the peppers in half, rinse and seed thoroughly.
~ In a large pot, bring about 6 cups of water to a boil. Once it's boiling, drop the peppers in and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from water with tongs and set aside to cool.
~ Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
~ Coat a casserole dish with cooking spray and spread a thin layer of red sauce over the bottom.
~ Arrange the pepper halves snugly in the pan, then fill (generously!) with the veggie mixture.
~ Pour the remaining sauce over the filled peppers and bake uncovered at 400 degrees for 20 minutes, then raise the heat to 450 for another 15 minutes, or until browned and bubbling.
~ Serve with rice, or pasta, and additional sauce if you like.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Garlicky Potato Frittata

Well, here it is: July. Here in New England, it feels a bit surreal, because we had a June characterized by three weeks of cool, rainy weather, with only two or three cool, sunny days mixed in. This made some people very sad, but as a person who hates the heat and never exposes my Casper-like complexion to direct sunlight on purpose, I wasn't really complaining. For one thing, it provided incentive to cook and bake, things for which I generally have little enthusiasm this time of year. One recent, gloomy day, it occurred to me that it had been ages since we'd had a frittata, and that some garlicky potatoes would make the perfect filling. So I threw this together one grey, misty morning, put it in the oven, and it emerged golden-brown and beauteous just in time to be a delicious lunch; even my picky youngest son ate a big slice, and that's sayin' summat. (Also and again, please excuse the crummy camera photo; believe me when I say it looked and smelled much better than suggested by the picture above!)

Garlicky Potato Frittata
The Filling:
~ Preheat the oven to 425 degrees fahrenheit.
~ 1.5 lbs. red potatoes, cut into 1" chunks
~ 1 large red bell pepper, cut into about 1/2" cubes
~ 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
~ 1 tsp. each: kosher salt, paprika, thyme, tarragon
~ Fresh black pepper
~ In a large bowl, coat the potatoes and peppers with the olive oil and spices.
~ Transfer to an oiled baking sheet and roast for 30-40 minutes, until golden brown, stirring occasionally.

The Garlicky Bit:
~ 2 cups chopped, fresh basil
~ 1 cup toasted, chopped walnuts
~ 2 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
~ 1/2 cup hummus (homemade or prepared, it doesn't matter)
~ Combine all ingredients in a food procesor and blend until smooth.
~ Pour over roasted potatoes, stir to coat thoroughly and set aside.

The Batter:
~ 1 lb. extra firm tofu, crumbled
~ 1 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
~ 1/3 cup unsweetened soy milk
~ 1/2 tsp. each: salt, turmeric, paprika
~ Fresh black pepper
~ Extra paprika and dried parsley for garnish
~Combine all the ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth.

The Assembly:
~ Lower the oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit.
~ Coat a deep-dish pie plate with cooking spray.
~ Spread the potato mixture evenly over the bottom of the pie plate.
~ Pour the batter over the filling, smoothing with a rubber spatula to cover.
~ Sprinkle with a little paprika and dried parsley to make things pretty.
~ Bake uncovered in the center of the oven 30 minutes, until the batter is set and golden brown on top. (Check on it occasionally during the process, since ovens differ; mine tends to be slow).
~ Allow to sit another 10-15 minutes before serving.