Saturday, March 30, 2013

Lentil, Okra, and Sweet Potato Curry

Okrahoma, where the slime comes slidin' 'cross the plate;
And those slippery greens, combined with beans
Make a spicy curry that is great...

It is a truth universally acknowledged that not everyone loves okra, but I'm not interested in talking to those people because I love it. Yes, it's slimy, but that's part of its charm! (Tell me that okra is the first thing you've encountered to which this description applies; yeah, I didn't think so.) It's precisely that uniquely...emulsifying quality that makes it such an invaluable addition to stews, gumbos, and curries, and while there are multiple and wonderful ways of cooking  okra that eliminate the slime entirely, this is one of those dishes that makes good use of its slippery je ne sais quoi. I always keep a few bags of frozen okra on hand for last-minute inspirations like this one, which incorporates the ever-popular (at my house, anyway) lentils and sweet potatoes for a one-dish supper that needed nothing more than a fluffy bed of rice and some spicy pickle to make five people happy - with leftovers for lunch!

Lentil, Okra, and Sweet Potato Curry
~ 1 tbsp. canola oil
~ 1 tsp. each: mustard seeds, cumin seeds
~ 1 large onion, diced
~ 1 large sweet potato, diced
~ 1 lb. sliced okra (I used frozen)
~ 2 tsp. each: fenugreek, curry powder
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, garam masala, chili powder
~ 1/2 tsp. each: turmeric, asafoetida, cayenne pepper
~ 1.5 cups brown lentils
~ 1 28 oz. can diced, fire-roasetd tomatoes
~ 3 cups vegetable broth
~ 2 cups chopped spinach
~ 1 tbsp. canola oil
~ 1 tbsp. panch phoran

~ In a large pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the mustard and cumin seeds and stir a bit until they just begin to splutter and pop.
~ Quickly add the onion and cook about 2-3 minutes, until slightly browned.
~ Add the sweet potato, okra, and seasonings. Stir to combine and cook about 5 minutes; add a splash of water or broth if things get sticky.
~ Stir in the lentils and fire-roasted tomatoes and continue cooking for another minute or two.
~Add the broth, cover, and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to low and simmer for 45-50 minutes, stirring occasionally, until you have a thick stew.
~ In a small pan, heat the remaining 1 tbsp. oil, and fry the panch shoran for just a minute or so, until the seeds begin to pop. Pour this mixture into the curry along with the spinach, stir to combine, and serve hot over basmati rice.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Vegetable Quinoa Risotto

Before we get started, I want to make it clear that I realize "risotto" is properly made with a starchy, short grain rice like arborio, but I would also like to say on the record that twee coinages and portmanteaux like "quinotto" make me unbelievably stabby, which is both illegal and so not vegan. So we'll just call this dish quinoa risotto for the sake of peace in our time, okay? Good.

Quinoa, as everyone knows by now, is one of Nature's Super Wonder Foods: gluten-free, high in protein, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, fiber, and magical fairy unicorn sparkles, it's been among the top-ranking nutritional sweethearts of the last decade or so. (And ain't it purty?) The other good news is that it's also yummy and versatile; similar to couscous in its light and fluffy texture, but with a cute little squiggly tail that only appears after it's cooked. While it's not technically a starch, it behaves like one in its ability to absorb and/or act as a backdrop for other flavors, which makes it a nice change from the usual "bed of whatever" upon which curries, stews, etc. are often ladled.

In this particular case, quinoa is that darling of the busy and harassed cook: the one pot meal! And since it requires less of the finicky, constantly stirring attention than its demanding namesake, this risotto lets you step away from the stove to pour some wine, play with your dog, make a salad, chat with whoever's hanging out in the kitchen, or all of the above. (I just used the vegetables I had on hand, so you can obviously substitute what's available in your kitchen; I do recommend starting with onions and using a really good, flavorful broth.)

Vegetable Quinoa Risotto
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1 large onion, diced
~ 1 bell pepper, diced
~ 2 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 2 cups sliced mushrooms
~ 2 tsp. tarragon
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, thyme, marjoram
~ 1/2 tsp. white pepper
~ 2 cups quinoa
~ 1/2 cup white wine
~ 4-5 cups broth (insert plug for Better Than Bouillon's No Chicken)
~ 1 cup frozen peas
~ 1/2 cup nutritional yeast
~ 1-2 tbsp. Earth Balance or other vegan margarine

~ In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, sauté the onion in the olive oil over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until softened.
~ Stir in the pepper, garlic, and dried seasonings and cook another few minutes.
~ Add the mushrooms, cover the pan, and cook about 5-7 minutes, until the mushrooms have softened and released their liquid.
~ Add the quinoa, stir to coat, and then pour in the half cup of wine. Cook another minute or two and then add the broth. Raise heat to high and bring just to a boil before lowering back to a simmer.
~ Allow to simmer for about 15-20 minutes, until the quinoa is tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed.
~ Add the peas and cook another few minutes, until they are bright green. Add the Earth Balance, the nutritional yeast, and a little more liquid if necessary; mix thoroughly and serve hot.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Ravioli with Two Afghan-Inspired Sauces

This was my attempt to reproduce something like the amazing leek-filled dumpling dish served at our local Afghan restaurant. I say "something like" because although I love dumplings, ravioli, and all manner of filled, starchy bundles, I am entirely too shiftless to make my own; it's possible this situation may change at some future point, but suffice to say that time is not now. In any case, what I was really after was the accompanying split pea sauce, which came as a revelation - I had never considered combining dal with pasta, but after one bite it became clear that this was A. a match made in heaven, and B. one to be remade in my kitchen ASAP. And so I set to work; an internet search provided recipes for several types of dumplings served with legume, yogurt, and meat sauces. According to my usual method, I took a bit from this and a bit from that until I arrived at the result I wanted - a result, I might immodestly add, which kicked some serious ass. The contrasting textures, flavors, and temperatures of the cool yogurt sauce, the al dente ravioli, and the stew-like split peas made for one of the most interesting meals I've made in awhile; definitely worthy of many repeat performances. Because I am lazy (see above in re: shiftless), I used the perfectly delicious Rising Moon butternut squash ravioli, but if you're inclined to make your own, either the traditional leek aushuk and/or a vegan rendition of mantwo would pair beautifully with these sauces. Noosh'e Jaan!

Ravioli with Two Afghan-Inspired Sauces
Yogurt Sauce
~ 2 cups plain, unsweetened soy yogurt
~ 1 tbsp. each: minced garlic, dried mint
~ 1 tsp.  cumin
~ 1/2 tsp. salt

~ Mix all ingredients together, cover, and refrigerate at least an hour. (Easy, innit?)

Split Pea Sauce
~ 1 cup yellow split peas, soaked for at least an hour (the longer, the better)
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 3 large leeks, cleaned and chopped
~ 2 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 2 tsp. each: cumin, za'atar
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, cinnamon, coriander
~ 1/2 tsp. each: cardamom, turmeric
~ 1/4 tsp. each: nutmeg, cayenne pepper
~ A few generous grinds of black pepper
~ 3-4 cups "no chicken" broth
~ Chopped, fresh coriander or parsley (optional, but nice)

~ 2 lbs. cooked, drained vegan ravioli, homemade or store-bought (I used four packages to feed five people, with leftovers)

~ Heat a large saucepan and sauté the leeks in the olive oil for about five minutes, until softened.
~ Add the garlic and cook another minute or so before adding the drained split peas and the remaining seasonings. Combine thoroughly and pour in the broth.
~ Cover the pan, raise the heat to high, and bring to a boil; turn the heat down to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about an hour. You may need to add a bit more broth or water to achieve a texture somewhere between a soup and a more solid dal; kind of like a thick, chunky spaghetti sauce. Taste for seasonings; if you'd like a bit more heat, you can add a shot of hot sauce at this point.
~ Spread a layer of yogurt sauce on a plate, place ravioli on top, and ladle on the split peas. Serve immediately, topped with chopped fresh coriander or parsley.