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Indian food

The Spice Box Vegetarian Indian Cookbook: More Spicy Fun

turnip koftas curry (shalgam ke koftas), lemon rice (neebu chawal)

DinnerPlated2It’s time for Indian food again! Unlike Curries Without Worries, The Spice Box is a fully vegetarian cookbook. Author Manju Shivraj Singh provides introductory sections that explain different spices and ingredients that are key to Indian cooking, as well as a list of places to find the ingredients. One of the stores listed is only about ten minutes by subway from my home, but as LemonRiceIngreds3it happens I was able to find nearly everything I needed in my usual neighborhood grocery stores. Or, in the case of most of the spices, on my pantry shelves.

I decided to try the turnip koftas curry because I’m a big fan of the vegetable kofta, a sort of Indian veggie meatball. I accompanied it with lemon rice, which recommended itself in part FryingMustardSeeds2because it’s supposed to be as good cold as warm — meaning I could make it ahead and let it sit while I made the koftas, which were a bit labor-intensive.

For the rice, I started by cooking some rice, starting with about three cups’ worth of dry rice. I let it cool a bit while I prepared the vegetables for the flavor mixture. I heated some oil in a skillet and ChilesSplitPeasadded some mustard seeds, which I cooked until they started to pop. Then I added some diced chiles and yellow split peas, and cooked them all together a bit longer. At this point I added some turmeric, cashews, and lemon juice. I was also supposed to add curry leaves, but that was the one ingredient I hadn’t found, so I substituted a little parsley and cilantro; I don’t know if that was LemonRiceIngredsclose, but it was something. I cooked this mixture for five minutes more, then stirred in a little salt, and then stirred the whole mixture into the rice and mixed it up well, until the chunky ingredients were evenly distributed and my rice paddle was a lovely fluorescent yellow. (Hooray for turmeric!) I put the lid back on the rice pot and turned to my koftas.

LemonRice2I started by peeling, slicing and boiling a pound of turnips. While they cooked I finished the rest of my veggie prep: I diced chiles, ginger root and cilantro for the koftas, and chopped onions, garlic and tomatoes for the sauce. I also chunked up some onions and garlic and pulsed them in the food processor until they were very fine. Once the turnips were cooked, I drained and mashed SlicedTurnips2them. Then I stirred in the processed onions and garlic, some chickpea flour, some Cream of Wheat (semolina flour would have been OK too), and some turmeric, cayenne, coriander and salt. This mixture made a coarse sort of batter; in fact it was a little moist, which I think was because I hadn’t perfectly drained the turnips before mashing them, but I added a little more chickpea StuffingKoftaflour and Cream of Wheat until the consistency seemed right: a loose dough that would hold its shape if formed into a ball without breaking apart or giving up moisture.

I shaped lumps of this into round — OK, sort of round — balls that were probably too big, but I had to shape them to contain a center mixture of diced chiles, diced KoftasBeforeFryingginger root, cilantro and raisins. I think in the future I might mince the filling mixture fine, but the chunky filling worked well enough this time. While I continued to shape and fill koftas, Scott fried the shaped balls in oil, following the detailed instruction in the recipe (“Deep fry these balls and set aside”). They did fry up nicely, with a beautiful golden crust and a nicely light, flavorful interior. FryingKoftaOne of the koftas broke apart when Scott turned it, but it still tasted good, and the others held their shape beautifully.

For the sauce, I heated some oil in a skillet and added some cumin seeds, which I fried for about two minutes. These did not pop. I then added some onions and garlic and cooked them until the onions were golden, about seven FriedKoftasminutes. Then I added some hot water, the chopped tomatoes, and spices: salt, turmeric, cayenne, and coriander, and let the mixture cook for about 10 minutes, until the sauce had thickened. I took it off the heat and stirred in some garam masala, then carefully added the koftas.

The rice was delightful: spicy and savory, and not as hot as you KoftaSauceCooking2might expect. (I fully expect the heat to build as the leftovers sit in the fridge, though; oh, darn.) The koftas were savory, with a crunchy outside and a perfectly cooked interior. Good work, Scott! The sauce was thick and spicy, and went nicely with the koftas.

Verdict: Success. I may not make the koftas again soon since they were rather work-intensive, but the rice was pretty easy and will definitely have to go into the rotation.

Curries Without Worries: Indian Food for Christmas Eve

paneer do piaza, dam aloo, cachumbar ka salad, rasmalai

IndianFoodPlated2Curries Without Worries is subtitled “an introduction to Indian cuisine,” and it’s well set up to offer that. Author Sudha Koul explains principles of Indian cooking, details both vegetarian and non-vegetarian recipes, and suggests a number of set menus to try. I’ve owned this book for a while but have never used it before, so decided that I should do it up right and prepare a full RasmalaiCloseUPdinner. So for Christmas Eve we decided to make Indian food and watch “Twin Peaks.”

I started the night before by making dessert, rasmalai: ricotta cubes in cream sauce. I mixed together ricotta cheese and sugar, then baked the mixture until it was set but not browned. Once it had cooled, I cut it into squares, which I put into a glass dish. RicottaInPanThen I mixed together half-and-half, saffron, cardamom and slivered almonds, and poured the sauce over the cheese; I sprinkled on some chopped green pistachios, covered the dish with plastic wrap, and put it into the fridge. That night’s viewing: series pilot.

The next morning I started early on the paneer, a homemade PaneerCookingcheese. Paneer takes a fair amount of time to make, but not much of that is hands-on. I started by bringing some whole milk to a boil, which gave me the opportunity to learn once again that a watched pot of milk will not boil but the second you look away, sploosh! Once I’d pulled the pot off the direct heat I stirred in a mixture of whole-milk yogurt and lemon juice, which caused PaneerDrainingthe mixture to curdle; as directed, I covered the pot and left it to sit for half an hour. Then I poured the curd mixture onto a layer of cheesecloth (as in, “oh, that’s why they call it that”), rinsed it and let the bulk of the liquid drain off. The cheesecloth was showing signs of weakness at this point, so I tied up the cheese curd mass in a linen napkin and hung it above the kitchen sink for PaneerSqueezinganother 30 minutes to drain out more liquid. Then I took the cheese, still tied in its napkin, and pressed it with a weight for another half hour or so. Finally I untied the napkin and cut the paneer into cubes.

To make paneer do piaza, I fried the cheese cubes in hot oil, then set them aside while I prepared a sauce of onions, ginger, garlic, PaneerFriedtomatoes, cumin, coriander, more onions (yes! “twice-onioned is twice-blessed”), cayenne pepper, cardamom, garam masala, cloves, nutmeg and water. Once I had that ready, I added the fried cheese and let it all cook for about 20 minutes.

The dam aloo took some preparation as well, though not as much. I started by boiling some PotatoesFrying2small whole potatoes, then pulling off the skins. These were a bit green, so I actually pared away the green bits, then pierced each potato repeatedly with a toothpick. Then I fried the potatoes until they were reddish-brown, then set them aside. I then sauteed some onions and added yogurt, cayenne, fennel, ginger, cumin, cloves and water; when that was at the right stage IndianFoodIngredientsof simmering I added the potatoes and let that cook for about 10 minutes.

The final dish was cachumber ka salad, or cucumber salad. This was the simplest preparation of all (other than the rice, for which I used a rice cooker). I mixed finely chopped cucumber, onion, tomato, and cilantro with some DamAloosalt and lemon juice, then let it chill while I finished the rest of the cooking.

The full meal was quite a bit of work, but was really delicious. The spices were distinctive but not overwhelming, though I discovered today when I brought the leftovers for lunch that they do intensify with time. (Luckily there were not many people in the office DicedSaladto be offended by my breath.) I followed the set meal as laid out in the book, except that I substituted the rasmalai for a frozen dessert (similar composition but there wasn’t room in my freezer), and my only complaint was that it was a bit heavy on frying and whole milk and a bit light on green vegetables. But all the dishes went well together. (I believe we got to the end of the first season that evening.)

Verdict: Success. It was a fair amount of work but it was really good.

I took many more photos than I had room for in this post; be sure to visit my 107 Cookbooks set on Flickr.

The Meatless Gourmet: Last party recipe

samosas, cucumber-tomato raita

PartyTable2The Meatless Gourmet is a collection of vegetarian recipes from different world cuisines. Mexico, Italy, Eastern Europe, the Caribbean, and more are represented in appetizers, entrees, side dishes and beverages. I probably bought the book when it was new in 1995, because I know we’ve cooked from it for years.

For the party I decided to try the Indian section: samosas filled with a curried potato-and-pea mixture, and a cucumber-tomato raita. The recipes are clear and easy to follow. I made the samosa filling the day before the party. You start by cutting a potato into chunks and boiling it until it’s tender but not mushy; let it cool briefly and then remove the peel, and dice smaller. Dice some onion as well, and Samoas-TaterNOnionsautee it with some minced fresh ginger root and Indian spices: fennel, coriander, curry powder, cumin, turmeric and cayenne, plus salt and pepper. Add the potatoes and some fresh or frozen peas, and cook until the mixture is heated through and the peas are tender, about 15 minutes.

I assembled and baked the samosas the day of the party. The recipe calls for refrigerated biscuit dough. I had misgivings, but decided that I had enough to do without making my own biscuits. As it turns out, though, the time-consuming part of the process is the rolling and assembly; the time I saved by not mixing my own biscuits was spent in reading the ingredient labels at the supermarket to make sure the biscuit dough I chose did not include beef tallow. Because Samosas-Spicesthat would kind of defeat the purpose of a vegetarian recipe, and since there were actual vegetarians coming to the party I though it would be stupid to sabotage them in that way. If I make these again I’ll make biscuits from scratch.

But pressing forward with the pressure-packed dough: You roll out an individual biscuit and then cut it in half, top the lower end of each half with filling, and then close up the turnovers and bake them for about 8 minutes. The refrigerated dough may not have saved me any real time, but it tasted just fine in conjunction with the spicy potato and pea filling.

SamosasAssemblingThe raita is a sauce or dip that contrasts a cool, fresh flavor with the usual hot and spicy dishes that Indian food is known for. It was pretty easy to make: peel, seed and shred a cucumber, and combine it with plain nonfat yogurt, fresh mint, cumin, chili powder, salt and pepper, diced tomato and onion. I only tasted a little of it; I was looking forward to using the leftovers, but at the end of the night I stood in the over-warm room and looked at the mixture that had been sitting out for several hours and had visions of subsequent food poisoning. So down the drain it went, I’m sad to say. Maybe next time I’ll rest the bowl on a bed of ice.

SamosasToBakeVerdict: Success. The samosas and raita tasted good, and were easy to make. I’ll probably try them both again, with modifications to the samosas.SamosasBaked