Sunday, February 28, 2010

Achari Baingan (Eggplant in Pickling Spices)

By this point, it will be perfectly clear to anyone reading this blog that we really like Indian cuisine, and we are fortunate in having several excellent Indian groceries within 15 minutes of our kitchen. In combination with a visit to a nearby, all-vegetarian South Indian restaurant, food shopping is basically one of my ideas of A Perfect Date, and on a recent visit, we picked up - among other things - some panch phoron and a bunch of teensy-weensy, adorable widdle baby eggplants.

As luck would have it, we had just eaten Achari Baingan for lunch, and it was so good that the fate of those precious purple darlings was sealed; a cursory web search led to me to a basic recipe, which I adapted slightly to make things a bit more interesting. It was very easy, and relatively fast to make, but best of all, it was every bit as good as what we'd had at the restaurant. We rounded things out with saffron rice, onion naan, and saag tofu paneer for an outrageously delicious and filling meal. So: my advice to you is run, don't walk, to your nearest Indian market, pick up what's necessary, and get busy cooking this tout de suite. I promise you'll thank me later!

Achari Baingan (Eggplant in Pickling Spices)
~ 1.5 tbsp. mustard oil
~ 1/2 tsp. hot chili oil
~ 4 tsp. panch phoron
~ 1 large onion, chopped
~ 1 tbsp, ginger, grated
~ 1 tbsp. garlic, minced
~ 4 large tomatoes, chopped (or 1 14 oz. can diced, drained)
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, fenugreek powder
~ 1/2 tsp. each coriander, asafoetida
~ 10-12 baby eggplants, cut into 6 cubes each (or 1 large one, cut into 2" cubes)
~ 4 scallions, thinly sliced

~ In a large, deep skillet or wok, heat mustard oil almost to the smoking point.
~ Add the panch phoron and stir; when the seeds change color, add the onion and sauté onion until light brown.
~ Stir in the ginger and garlic and sauté for 1 minute.
~ Add the tomatoes, salt, coriander, asafoetida and fenugreek. Lower heat to medium, cover and cook about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally so it doesn't stick; the tomatoes should be soft and pulpy.
~ Add the chopped eggplant and combine thoroughly. Replace the cover and cook 15-20 minutes, until the eggplant is soft.
~ Stir in the scallions and cook another minute or two, then serve hot with naan bread and/or steamed rice.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Papou's Orrechiette Pasta with Onions and Toasted Walnuts

Today marks the third anniversary of my father's death. I don't usually get too personal on here because it is, after all, supposed to be a food blog. But in this case I'll make an exception, because to think of my father (seen above in his US Army Air Corps uniform; wasn't he cute?) is to think of food and cooking.

My father was a professional chef who turned out thousands of meals over the course of his long working life, but he was also a great home cook. When I was small, my mom - who also knew her way around the kitchen - made dinner most nights, but I remember some of the best meals being the ones my father would put together when she was out, and it was just us. For a long time such occasions were relatively infrequent, but as my older siblings grew up, up, and away there were more evenings when my dad would make something just because I liked it. (I was a notoriously finicky eater; years later, he was just as happy to drop everything and whip up a batch of mashed potatoes for my own picky kid.)

My favorite uncle often made a third on these occasions, and eventually we instituted a standing Wednesday night date to have dinner together and watch Little House on the Prairie. This entailed a lot of inveighing against that bitch Nellie Olsen and her horrible, social-climbing, shop-keeping mother, while waiting for Laura Ingalls to reach her limit and shove Nellie in the mud and/or smack her upside the head, thereby disarranging her blonde ringlets and soiling her gratuitously ruffled, prairie-inappropriate frock. (I believe that
 whisky may have played a role in these festivities for the grown-ups in attendance.) Good times.

But I digress. A few weeks ago, I dreamed that my father came for a "visit," and we were cooking pasta in my childhood kitchen: orecchiette pasta, to be specific (which I'd never used, and have no recollection of him making). Anyway, we were sauteeing some onions and garlic when he said, "Now here's when I might add a little ham, but we're not going to do that, are we? I think we should toast some walnuts instead." Which is exactly what we did, and it was delicious; I ate a big dish of it, just before waking up. 

I opened my eyes and lay there processing things for awhile, as you do after a particularly vivid dream, then told my partner about it, because I wanted to make that pasta before I forgot the "recipe." We procured all the necessary ingredients and whipped up a batch, and I'm happy to report that it turned out just as well in the real world as in the realm of the subconscious. From now on, I'm going to count this as a dish I learned from my dad because in our family, if someone communicates from beyond the grave, it's probably going to be about food!

Orrechiette Pasta with Onions and Toasted Walnuts
~ 2 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1 tbsp. Earth Balance or other vegan margarine
~ 1 large onion, chopped
~ 2 tbsp. garlic, minced
~ 1 cup chopped walnuts
~ 1 tsp. salt
~ 1 tbsp. dried basil
~ Pinch of nutmeg
~ A few generous grinds of black pepper
~ 2-3 cups chopped, fresh spinach

~ Chopped, fresh parsley (about ½ cup)
~ 1 lb. orecchiette pasta, cooked and drained

~ In a large, deep skillet or wok, heat the oil and margarine over medium heat. Add the onions and saute about 3-4 minutes, until softened.
~ Add the garlic, walnuts and spices and combine thoroughly and cook another 7-10 minutes, until the walnuts are toasted, stirring frequently to make sure they don't burn.
~ Mix in the chopped spinach and cook another minute or two, then add the drained pasta.
~ Stir everything all together, raise the heat to high, and cook another 5-7 minutes, until the pasta is all coated in the sauce, and is getting just ever-so-slightly crispy; again, keep stirring!
~ Add the chopped parsley, remove from heat, and serve with a little extra black pepper (or red pepper flakes) if you like. Delicious!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Thai Jackfruit Curry with Cashews

"We can share the curry, we can share the liime...we can share those cashews of yours, 'cause we done shared all of miiiine..."

Sorry, I couldn't help myself. Anyway, jackfruit is one of those "exotic" ingredients that occasionally pop up in recipes on vegan internet forums, and I have to confess that I never really knew what it was. A lot of people seem to use it to simulate things like pulled pork or taco meat, and since I never really liked that sort of stuff before I was vegan, the temptation to replicate it was nonexistent. Besides which, I'd never seen it in a store, so it hadn't occurred to me to explore its possibilities; in short, I didn't know jackfruit about jackfruit.

Well, on a recent trip to our truly epic local Indian market, I spied some in the frozen food section, thought, "What the hell?" and into the basket it went. Back at home, I went in search of a suitable recipe, and found a Thai-style curry that seemed like just the thing. While I was cooking, we did a bit of research, and learned that jackfruit grows on trees, is a distant cousin of the mulberry, and is the national fruit of Bangladesh. It's also fricking huge; in fact, it's the largest tree-borne fruit in the world, growing to a diameter of about 10 inches - impressive, no?

Knowledge may be power, but this information didn't tell me what to expect from the finished product, and I don't mind admitting that the whole cooking process was a pretty exciting proposition (hey, I take my thrills where I find them, okay?). In the end, it cooked up pretty quickly - on a par with other, more typical stirfry ingredients - with a texture that was somewhat starchy, not unlike a sweet potato, or maybe cassava root, but firmer and more fibrous. It isn't very strongly flavored, so it blended nicely with the lemongrass, basil and coconut elements; ladled on top of vermicelli noodles, it was a nice change from the more Indian-influenced curries I generally favor. Overall, a success; now I'm contemplating what interesting fate might be suitable for the package that's still in the freezer; suggestions are welcome!

Thai Jackfruit Curry with Cashews
Spice Paste
~ 1 tbsp. Thai green curry paste
~ 3 tbsp. soy sauce
~ 1 tsp. hot chili oil
~ 1 tsp. dried lemongrass
~ 1 tsp. dried mint
~ 2 tsp. sugar
~ 1 tbsp. garlic, minced
~ 1 tbsp. fresh ginger, grated
~ Juice and pulp of one large lime (or 2 small)

~ Mix all ingredients thoroughly in a bowl or beaker and set aside.

The Vegetables
~ 2 tbsp. canola or other mild oil
~ 2 cups yellow onion, cut in large dice
~ 1 cup red bell pepper, sliced
~ 1 package frozen jackfruit, thawed and chopped into 1" pieces
~ 2 cups mushrooms, thickly sliced
~ 2 cups broccoli, cut into medium-size florets
~ 1/4 cup dry white wine
~ 1 cup coconut milk
~ 2 cups fresh basil leaves, chopped
~ 1 cup roasted cashews, halved

~ In a large, deep skillet or (preferably) wok, heat the oil and saute the onions over medium-high heat about 3 minutes, until softened but not clear.
~ Raise the heat to high, then add the bell pepper and jackfruit and stir-fry another few minutes. Add splashes of the wine as the pan starts to get dry.
~ Add the mushroom and broccoli, and continue cooking about 5-7 minutes, until the broccoli is bright green is the jackfruit has begun to brown.
~ Pour in the spice paste and the coconut milk, combine thoroughly, and cook 5 minutes more.
~ Add the chopped basil and cashews, mix thoroughly, and serve hot over jasmine rice or vermicelli noodles.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Saag (Tofu) Paneer

Before I was vegan, saag paneer was a frequent go-to option when eating Indian: it's delicious, nutritious, and can generally be found even at those silly buffets designed for people afraid to peruse the menu. My animal-free version uses pressed, seasoned tofu for the cheese and coconut milk for cream, with what I must admit are spectacular results. This dish pairs nicely with a tomato-chickpea curry, but with all that tofu and spinach, it could easily be a meal on its own with some rice and/or naan bread and hot pickle.

Saag (Tofu) Paneer
The "Paneer"
~ 1 lb. extra firm tofu, pressed and cubed (tofu that's been frozen & thawed works particularly well here)
~ 2 tbsp. each: good curry powder, nutritional yeast
~ 1/2 tsp. salt
~ Oil for frying

~ Combine the salt, curry powder, and nooch, and sprinkle over the tofu cubes. Shake the tofu around a bit to make sure all the cubes are thoroughly coated (I do this in a plastic bowl with a cover).
~ Heat about an inch of canola oil in in a deep skillet over medium high heat.
~ When the oil is hot enough that a piece of tofu dropped into it floats to the surface, add half the cubes, fry for about 2 minutes on each side, and remove with a slotted spatula to drain on paper towels. Set aside any extra coating mixture.
~ Fry and drain the second batch, and then set the tofu aside while you make the saag.
*** Please note that if you'd rather not fry the tofu, you can bake it instead! Simply toss the tofu cubes with the nooch, curry powder, and salt as above, then coat a cookie sheet with cooking spray and place in a 425 degree oven for 5 minutes. Arrange the coated tofu cubes on the heated cookie sheet, spritz with another hit of cooking spray, and bake for about 20 minutes, turning once or twice during the process.

The Saag
~ 1 tbsp. coconut oil
~ 1 medium yellow onion, diced
~ 2 tbsp. garlic, minced
~ 2 tbsp. fresh ginger, grated
~ 1 14 oz. can fire-roasted tomatoes, drained
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, cumin, coriander, garam masala, fenugreek
~ 1/2 tsp. each: asafoetida, turmeric, cayenne pepper
~ 1 lb. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and un-drained
~ 1 14 oz. can full-fat coconut milk
~ Leftover tofu coating (if any)

~ In a deep skillet or wok, melt the coconut oil and saute the onion over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until golden but not browned.
~ Add the garlic and ginger and cook about 2 minutes more.
~ Stir in the tomatoes and seasonings, then reduce heat to low. Partially cover and simmer 7 to 8 minutes or until a thin film of oil starts to form on the surface.
~ Add the undrained spinach, cover and simmer another 10 minutes.
~ Stir in the cubed, fried tofu, then replace the cover and simmer about 5 minutes more, giving it the occasional gentle stir.
~ Add the coconut milk and the leftover tofu coating, combine thoroughly, and cook another few minutes to be sure the mixture is piping hot.
~ Serve with rice and/or naan bread and prepare to swoon.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

"Beef" Stew with Cheddar Cobbler Topping

As previously noted, I've had kind of a thing going with The Guardian's food column lately. While I appreciate their vegetarian section - which features lots of Indian dishes - I confess to taking a special, perverse pleasure in appropriating the most stodgy, old school, meat-and-potatoes recipes to serve my twisted herbivorous agenda, and this week's post is a case in point. The original dish, posted by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (how's that for a moniker?), calls for bacon, butter, "dripping," and "1.5kg stewing beef or shin [eewww! - ed.] cut into generous chunks," and features a cobbler topping filled with a variety of animal secretions, excretions, fluids, and solids. In short, a veritable one-dish slaughterhouse/major cardiac event, piping hot while you wait for the ambulance to arrive.

But never fear, my pretties - your furry friends and your arteries are perfectly safe; behold as I perform the culinary magic trick of transforming Hugh's cholesterol-laden meatfest into a delicious, healthy meal! Instead of shins (seriously, shins?), I used soy curls, those miraculous morsels of protein-packed pulchritude, cooked with a bunch of vegetables in a brown ale gravy, then baked in a casserole with a doughy, crunchy biscuit crust. YUM. We had this for Sunday dinner, with some sauteed broccoli and spinach to hit that "green" spot, and it was hearty and satisfying without that "Ooof - where can I lie down?" feeling. I'll definitely be making this again, but for a more properly British experience I might serve it with brussels sprouts next time, or as Hugh suggests, "some buttery savoy cabbage on the side." Just make sure that "butter" is margarine, right? Mwahahahahahahaha!

"Beef" Stew with Cheddar Cobbler Topping
The "Beef" (Soy Curls)
~ 2 heaping cups soy curls
~ 4 - 5 cups vegetable broth
~ 2 tbsp. vegan Worcestershire sauce
~ 1 tsp. Marmite
~ 1 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, thyme, marjoram, sage
~ 2 bay leaves
~ A few grinds of black pepper

~ Mix the broth and all the seasonings in a large beaker, bowl or pot. Add the soy curls, then cover and bring to a boil (about 4 minutes in the microwave, probably a minute or so more on the stovetop).
~ Leave covered and set aside for at least an hour, then drain in a colander (remember to discard the bay leaves!), reserving the remaining marinade.

The Vegetables
~ 2 tbsp. canola oil
~ 2 cups chopped red onion
~ 1 cup carrots, diced
~ 1/2 cup celery, diced
~ 3 cups sliced mushrooms
~ 1 leek, washed and diced (about 1 cup)
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, thyme, sage
~ 1 12 oz. bottle good brown ale
~ 1/4 cup flour

~ Preheat the oven to 425 fahrenheit.
~ In a large pot, heat the oil and saute the red onion over medium heat about 5 minutes.
~ Add the carrots and celery and cook about 5 minutes more.
~ Raise the heat to high, stir in the mushrooms, leeks and seasonings and cook another 5 minutes, pouring in a little of the beer to deglaze the pan as necessary.
~ Toss the drained soy curls in about 1/4 cup of flour, then add them to the pan, stirring constantly for about 3 minutes.
~ Pour in the beer and reserved marinade, and combine thoroughly. Lower the heat to medium and cook 10-15 minutes more, until the stew has thickened a bit, and remove from heat.

The Topping
~ 2 cups all-purpose flour
~ 4 tsp. baking powder
~ 1/2 tsp. each: salt, sage
~ A few grinds of black pepper
~ 1/4 cup chilled Earth Balance or other vegan shortening (I freeze it and then grate it into the flour)
~ 1 cup grated cheddar flavor vegan cheese (Daiya, Cheerly, FYH, VioLife; your call)
~ 3/4 cup plain, unsweetened soy milk

~ In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and seasonings.
~ Add the shortening and cheese. Mix with your fingers until it resembles coarse crumbs.
~ Add the soy milk, and mix with a fork until you have a smooth dough (don't overwork it or your topping will be tough).

The Assembly
~ Coat a casserole dish with cooking spray and pour in the stew. (It's a good idea to place the casserole on a cookie sheet in case it bubbles over during baking.)
~ Take handfuls of the biscuit dough and arrange it on top of the stew (it can be rough, don't worry, we're going for a sort of "rustic farmhouse" aesthetic), making sure the whole casserole is covered.
~ Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the topping has risen, the casserole is bubbling, and the whole thing is a beautiful golden brown.
~ Remove from the oven and allow to set for 10-15 minutes before serving.