*Meat Free Tuesdays*: The Oxford Street Christmas lights are up already! Time for a winter warmer: Toor Dal two ways

So I was walking on Oxford street the other night and it was surprisingly noisy considering the time of night it was.  As I looked ahead, there were huge cranes towering with people on them making lots of drilling noises.  As I got closer I could finally see that they were erecting  London’s Christmas lights; the huge light studded umbrellas and Christmas presents that were going to adorn the streets for the next few months.  It brought a feeling of coziness and warmth to me.  Something I needed since summer never really re-appeared since I last posted.  The thought of Christmas approaching has sated my being.

Speaking of when I last posted, it has been a long hiatus during which many things have happened…many dishes prepared, recipes discovered, new people, old people met, new places, old places travelled to;  not forgetting to mention my garden harvest that was bursting with plums, apples and pears as well as a plethora of other delicious edibles that I was quite proud of.

I have to say though,  I haven’t been in the kitchen as much as I would have liked these past few months.  My spirit has been dampened slightly.  Sometimes things in other parts of your life take over and you can so easily forget the simple joys that your kitchen can bring.

Anyway, I am back!  And hopefully for awhile as I  have a number of recipes that I wish to share, and although their seasonality is more or less over, I will endeavor to write posts soon.

Getting back to the topic of this post.  Since I started my oh so clever idea of  making Tuesday a day to abstain from eating meat (family tradition being my motivation) and so promising a weekly delicious, vegetarian recipe offering to make you forget your desire to be carnivorous,  I realise I have not kept to my word.   I am ashamed to say that I have even had some readers protest over their absence! (I am slapping my own wrists at my broken promises, I can assure you.)

Toor Dal – two ways

Today I am sharing a recipe for an extremely versatile dal recipe- Toor Dal (Split Pigeon Peas).  Although a dal that is not traditionally cooked by the northern Indian people, it is one that can be found in many different forms in other parts such as in the southern and western India.  Being that my family originates from the North, toor dal is not something that you’d find in any Punjabi family’s repertoire   Lucky for me and my family’s movement around the globe and India for that matter; our family has adopted influences from many other cuisines, one of my favourites and most prominent in our repertoire are influences from the Gujarati cuisine.  Gujarati’s tend to use a lot of sweet and sour flavours in their recipes, hence the star flavours in this dish are jaggery for the sweetness and kokum phool for the sour (a dried sour flower that is specifically used in Gujarat- widely available in UK asian supermarkets.  Gujarati cuisine incorporates sweetness in the majority of it’s savoury dishes, something unheard of in northern India.  There are a number of dishes that my family make that have that Gujarati sweet and sour element fused with Punjabi flavour. The fusion dishes are sometimes the tastiest.

Toor dal is specifically made from split shelled pigeon peas.  You can find these in Indian stores in two formats.  Coated with oil or without. My family has always used the oil coated ones.  I am not quite sure why, but if I remember correctly I was once told that they stay fresher when coated with oil…maybe the dry ones tend to taste bad if kept for too long?  Regardless, the oil is washed off prior to cooking so I don’t think it would make much of a difference which you use.

The recipe I am giving you today has some Punjabi influences, but the essence is Gujarati.  It can be used to make two meals- one where the dal is cooked with a vegetable called drumsticks and the other uses the left over dal  that you can transform  into Dal Dhokali.

Toor Dal with Drumsticks

Serves 8

Ingredients for the dal

1 1/2 cups toor dal (oily or without oil) Wash both dals well, but if using the oily kind, rub well to remove the oil and wash until the water is more or less clear.  You can also soak this dal overnight to shorten the cooking time.

1 small/medium onion chopped

2-3 inches ginger grated

1/2 a garlic (6-8 pods) grated

1 tsp turmeric

1/2 tsp red chili powder or to taste

1/2 cup of dried kokum phool rinsed and then soaked in enough water to just cover them just before you start cooking. If you can’t find kokum you can substitute 1-2 limes or a few tbsp tamarind paste to taste for the sourness.

2-4 tbsp jaggery/ palm sugar to taste (If you need to substitute with brown sugar, use less)

salt to taste

Ingredients for the tarka

3-5 green chilies depending on strength-  to taste

1 rounded tsp cumin

1 rounded tsp mustard seeds

1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds

1-3 pieces of cassia bark or cinnamon sticks equivalent of about 2 inches

5-6 cloves

12 or so fresh curry leaves (you can sometimes find these frozen.  If you do find them fresh- they do freeze well if you don’t need them all.  Use directly from the freezer.  Do not defrost.)

1/4- 1/2 tsp Asafoetida/hing (optional- some people dislike the sulfurous smell.  I do not like to cook without it in many Gujarati dishes.  It adds a flavour you cannot replicate with anything else.  It is not the end of the world if you omit it though.)

1-2 tsp ground coriander powder

3 tbsp oil

The Vegetables

2 drumsticks prepared and cut into 3-4 inch sticks.  You can also buy these frozen – I used about 1/2 pack. (If you cannot find drumsticks you can omit them or add other vegetables such as carrots)

2 flavourful tomatoes chopped into large chunks

1 large onion chopped in to large chunks

Fresh coriander finely chopped for garnishing

Method

  1. Take all the ingredients for the dal apart from the jaggery, salt and kokum and put them into a large heavy based pan or a pressure cooker and top with 4-5 cups of water.  If pressure cooking allow 2-3 whistles if you have soaked the dal, if not allow 5-6.  You want to pulverise the dal as much as possible. If using a regular pan cook until dal is mashably soft- about 30 mins.
  2. Once the dal is soft, take a hand blender or a whisk and completely mash the dal to a smooth consistency. Check the thickness- you want it to be no thicker than single cream.  Add water accordingly.  Also add the salt to taste, the kokum or lime/tamarind and jaggery. Bring to a boil and simmer for 15 mins.
  3. While the dal is simmering, make the tarka: Heat the oil and add the cumin,  mustard seed, cloves and cassia bark and allow to flutter. Next add the curry leaves which will splutter. Add the green chilies and fry for a 20-30 seconds. Finally add the fenugreek seeds, the asafoetida and the coriander powder.  Do not cook too much more as the fenugreek seeds can turn bitter (15-20 seconds).  Add the entire pan of tarka to the dal that is simmering .
  4. Stir the dal well to distribute the tarka.  Now taste to check salt, sweet and sour. There should be a good balance of all.  Adjust by adding more jaggery if you need more sweetness, if there is too much sweetness add some lime or a little tamarind.
  5. Add the tomato chunks,  onion chunks and drumsticks and allow to simmer for 15 mins.
  6. The dal is now ready.  Garnish with coriander and serve with plain steamed basmati rice.

Dal Dhokali

The recipe for the dal is as above. If you are using left over dal you will need to thin it – add 1-2 cups of water for a more brothy consistency.  The quantity of ingredients given here is enough for left over dal.  If you are making the dal fresh, I suggest doubling the dhokali recipe below.

Ingredient for the Dhokali

100g wholewheat chapatti flour

25g besan – chickpea flour

1/2 tsp turmeric

1/2 red chili powder – or to taste

1 tsp ajawan seeds lovage/carom seeds (optional – adds a new flavour and compliments it well)

1/2 tsp salt

1 1/2 tbsp oil

water to make into a stiff dough

Method

  1. Mix all the ingredients in a bowl and make a stiff dough that will roll out with ease- about the texture of playdoh.
  2. Add water to left over dal and check seasoning.  Adjust accordingly, bring to a boil and allow to simmer.  If using fresh keep it on a simmer.
  3. Divide the dough into two pieces and roll out each one as thinly as possible- a couple of mm at the most. Use either flour or an oiled surface to help you roll.
  4. Use a pizza cutter to cut out diamond shapes as the picture below shows.
  5. Drop the dough pieces in to the simmering dal and allow to cook for 10-20 minutes.  When the dal has thickened slightly, check the dhokali is done (they will have expanded like pasta, but they do naturally have a slightly doughy texture similar to gnocchi.)
  6. When ready serve and garnish with freshly chopped coriander.

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Turning Steaks Into Meat Balls And The Day I Found A New Way To Love Fresh Tuna! My Asian Style Spaghetti & Meat (Fish) Balls

There are almost no instances in which I have ever enjoyed fresh tuna well cooked where all the pinkness (taste, texture, life) has been sucked out of it.

Nothing beats ultra fresh sashimi grade tuna eaten just as it is.  There is no smell of fish– just an undercurrent of the sea.  And the flesh, well the flesh is so unctuously meaty, but so soft it melts as you chew.  For me, good quality tuna sashimi is close to perfection.  When I buy tuna steaks that are not of the sashimi grade, the way I like to cook them is to marinate them for a short while, then quickly sear the steak on all sides to create a firm, pale casing around the soft, deep pink flesh, that in my humble opinion, tastes and feels wrong if it cooked any further.  This is the only way that I have found that it could be possible to enjoy fresh tuna when the need to cook it arises.  I have never understood how and why people cook them all the way through?  If you want the cooked stuff, would  it not just be better to open a can of tuna instead?

Last week I was faced with a dilemma.  I had bought some tuna steaks with the intention of cooking them just as have detailed above- with a light sear and an Asian marinade to go with some Chinese broccoli and spiced noodles.  Simple, quick and delicious ……I thought…..

Unfortunately, when my guests arrived and we were congregating in the kitchen while I started to cook, a bomb was dropped.  Two of my dear friends mentioned their desire for me to cook their steaks well done.  I am sure you can imagine my internal reaction to this, which coincidentally didn’t take long to externalize, albeit in a pre watershed- esq fashion.  :)

This would mean that 2 of the 4  people eating were not going to enjoy or experience their meal as I would have intended or liked.  I needed to change things up which would possibly involve the unthinkable.  With my thinking cap on I opened my mind up to the crimes I could commit against the beautiful tuna steaks.

It didn’t take me long to adjust my mind to a life of crime and I pretty quickly decided that the only thing to do was to murder the steaks and make them into balls.  I had spaghetti and meatballs on my mind from earlier in the day (scenes from Lady and the Tramp will do that to a person) which gave me a sudden burst of excitement about changing things up and started to rummage in the fridge to get the dish on the road.

Once I minced the steaks and added in the original marinade that I was going to used, anything I could find that was Asian cuisine inclined went in to the mix before I rolled out the balls to fry them.  I added a sauce to the noodles and that was the day I created a new and utterly delicious way for me (and my friends) to enjoy fresh tuna steaks.  The moral I have reiterated to myself: Never Say Never.  :)

My Asian Spaghetti & Meatballs

Serves 4 (with extra meatballs to snack on later :) )

Although this is not as quick as just cooking steaks- if you have a food processor- you are barely going to add 5 minutes to your prep time as virtually everything can be chopped in there.  The result is deliciously, juicy, flavourful and fragrant meatballs with not a hint of dryness in sight.  The recipe is extremly versatile in that you can customise it to serve it as a starter, snack or main course ; I will definitely be trying out this recipe as a burger and as an hors d’oeuvre in the future.   I urge you to try this recipe and revolutionise the way you cook tuna steaks, too!

The Meatballs

Ingredients

  • 400- 450g tuna steaks
  • 30g ginger
  • 30 g garlic
  • 2 green chillies or to taste
  • half head of cabbage
  • 1 red pepper
  • 3 spring onions
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 egg
  • 2-3 tbsp breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup packed finely chopped coriander
  • 1tbsp black sesame (if you only have the regular white ones- you can sub these)
  • 1 tbsp white sesame seeds
  • enough oil to shallow fry
The marinade to mix into the meatballs
Ingredients
  • 1 1/2 tbsp toasted sesame oil
  • 2-3 tsp fish sauce (sub with light soy sauce for allergy issues)
  • 1 tbsp black vinegar (if you don’t have this Worcestershire sauce is a great alternative)
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 tbsp mirin
  • 1 tbsp  Shao Xing wine
The Noodle Sauce
Ingredients
  • 2 tbsp of oil
  • 15g minced ginger
  • 15g minced garlic
  • 1/2 tsp red chili flakes (optional)
  • 2 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 2 tsp fish sauce (optional- sub salt or light soy sauce)
  • 1- 2 tbsp black vinegar (slightly less if you’re using Worcestershire sauce)
  • 1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp Shao Xing wine
  • 1 tbsp mirin
  • 1/4 cup coriander chopped
  • 2-3 spring onions chopped finely
  • 2 tbsp cornflour in 1/2 cup cold water
  • 1 – 1 1/2cup water- or to preference

250 g udon noodles cooked in salted water (I used Clearspring Brown Rice Udon Noodles- highly recommended- were delicious)
1 bag bean sprouts washed (if you are not using these cook extra noodles – another 50g or so)
Sesame bonito topping for garnishing (optional)

Method

  1.  For the meatballs you will find it much easier if you have a food processor.  If not you will need to chop all of the ingredients as finely as possible and put in a bowl before adding the egg, breadcrumbs, sesame seeds and marinade.  If you have a food processor, process in stages.  First the ginger, garlic and chilies and red onion.  Then add the tuna to the mix and pulse to chop it, but not make it into a paste.  Remove contents and put in a bowl. Next chop the rest of the vegetables and coriander with the pulse button so that they are fine, but again not a paste or puree. Empty contents into the bowl with the tuna.
  2. Next add all the ingredients for the marinade, the egg, the breadcrumbs and sesame seeds.  Mix well and leave to rest for 5 minutes.
  3. When the mix has rested shape into balls.  From this mixture you can make at least 18 golf sized balls- so adjust to the size you’d like.  You can also make these into burgers.  I would say you’d get 6 reasonably sized burgers.  Leave the balls to rest for 10 mins or so in the fridge if you have time.  If not you can cook them immediately without much issue.  Just turn when frying a little more frequently to retain a round shape if that is what you desire.
  4. Heat a wide based pan to shallow fry the balls.  Add enough oil so that the balls can fry without sticking- if you want to use less oil, use a non-stick pan.  Brown on all side.  About 5-7 mins cooking in total- more if you are making burgers.  Do not over cook as they will continue to cook a little with the residual heat in them.  When done set aside to rest.
  5. Now put the noodles on to cook while you make the sauce.  Heat the oil in a pan and add the ginger, garlic and chilies if you are using them.  Allow cook without browning too much.  With the heat on high, add all the sauces and boil for a minute.  Turn the heat down slightly and whisk in the cornflour mixed in water.  Add some more water depending on the quantity of sauce you want to make. Whisk to avoid lumps. If you want a thick sauce just coating the noodles- add a little less that the whole cup.  I find 1 extra cup of water is a good amount…next time I may add a little more than a cup as the noodles soak the sauce up quickly.  Bring the sauce to the boil where it will thicken and add the coriander leaves and spring onions.  Check for seasoning and adjust with extra soy sauce and black vinegar/ Worcestershire sauce.  Reserve about 1/2 cup of sauce to pour over the meatballs.
  6. Throw the drained noodles and the bag of beansprouts into the remaining sauce  and coat well.
  7. To serve,  plate the noodles and top with your desired number of meatballs (3-4 is a good portion) .  Finally, if you have it- garnish with my sesame bonito topping (recipe will be coming soon!) or if not, a sprinkling of sesame seeds/and or finely chopped spring onions. Enjoy!!

*Meat- Free Tuesday* Acquiring Taste With Age: My Journey From Loathing To Loving Karelas

Being from a family of  longstanding foodies, there are not many edible things that I have yet to encounter if you discount most jungle survival food. (Even some of this I have tried.)  However, not all of the things I have tried have been love at first taste;  in fact some of them have taken me years to develop a taste for.  I particularly remember when I was younger there were a few Indian vegetables/dishes my family would cook that I would not look forward to eating at all.  One in particular I used to dread was karelas (bitter gourd).  They have a distinctive bitterness that was not appealing to me and I didn’t understand why the adults relished them so much.  I imagine they may have been appealing to kids that enjoyed bitter flavours  such as bitter lemon drinks or various penny sweets that had a bitter tang, but I was not one of those kids.  Firstly, I was definitely not a fan of penny sweets…the sugary, sweet, sour, fizzy, sometimes bitter, brightly coloured,  mostly jelified objects that you’d to find your friends smuggling into lessons.  You knew the sweets were coming out when you heard the signature rustle from their little neon candy-pink stripped paper bags coming from under their desks in order to get a mid lesson sugar rush/pick me up.  The only penny sweets that I bought from the tuck shop were cola bottles or white chocolate mice, but there were only so many of those I could eat before I felt sick.  Now I don’t think I could stomach them at all.

It was my birthday this past Sunday and I got to thinking about how my tastes have evolved as I have gotten older.  Bhindis, Punjabi Wadis, Karelas are all things that I never liked as a child and now that I am older I sometimes crave for!  I remember my mother making these dishes because she particularly loved them- especially Wadis.  She would bring stocks of them over from India on her trips as the ones you used to get here were never the same; fortunately we get some good imported ones now. Wadis look like hardened dumplings.  They are made from ground up lentil and mostly whole spices (you will be experiencing whole peppercorns guaranteed!) that are dried in the hot sun, which is why they taste so much better when they are from India; the Indian sun makes everything taste better. :)  To use the wadis, you must first fry them in some oil to release the aromas from the spices and cook the lentils.  You can then add them to various dishes in order to soften them as they are quite the tooth breaker if you attempt to eat them without some moisture softening them first!  My mother’s favourite way to cook them are with potatoes in a gravy or to add them to vegetable pilau for that added kick.  When we were younger, my sister and I would get very irritated and would have no choice but to religiously pick out any trace of wadis in whatever dish our mother added them to for her own enjoyment, but now that we’re older you may find us arguing over who is having the last one!

For my series of Meat-Free Tuesdays posts,  today I am sharing a simple recipe for Karela (bitter gourd).  Once a vegetable that I loathed, it has become one that I adore.  This dish  has the perfect balance of bitter from the karela, sourness from the amchoor powder (or lemon), sweetness and flavour from the onions, potatoes and spices; most importantly, the use of sauf ( fennel seeds) that just makes this dish sing!  My love affair with fennel seeds and their magical uses in Indian cookery will be a story for another day!  Karelas not only are delicious, they have many health benefits too.  In the Indian culture they are used for medicinal purposes to control blood sugar problems among many other diseases.

There are many ways in which you can cook karelas; they are particularly delicious left whole and stuffed with either spiced lamb kheema or a vegetarian spicy besan (chickpea flour) mix.  Today’s recipe is the easiest way I know to prepare them as well as my favourite.

Aromatic Bitter Gourd & Potato Subzi – Aloo Karela Subzi

Ingredients

  • 3-4 karelas (bitter gourds) scrapped a little on the outside and sliced into rounds  or 1 pack of frozen slices defrosted
  • 1-2 potatoes cut into thick chips or cubes- whatever you prefer
  • 1 onion chopped finely
  • 1 onion sliced
  • 1-3 green chilies-to taste
  • 1  plus 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp whole fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp crushed fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp garam masala plus extra to taste
  • 1/2 tsp red chili powder (optional)
  • 2 1/2 tsp roasted ground coriander
  • 1/2- 1 tsp amchoor (dried green mango powder) or some lemon juice
  • 1- 2 tsp sugar/palm sugar/jaggery to taste
  • some roasted ground cumin for sprinkling
  • salt to taste
  • Oil

Method

  1. Take the karela slices and salt them generously and leave in a bowl for 15-20 mins.  After this time you will notice that there will be some liquid in the bowl.  Squeeze the karela slices well, pat with some kitchen paper to dry and set aside.  The liquid contains the bitterness.  This bitterness is what contains the goodness/medicinal properties in karelas, so the more you squeeze, the more you remove.  I give them a good squeeze, but not so much that they loose their shape or too much of the bitterness.
  2. In a wide based pan heat some oil- about 5-6 tbsp.  You will need to use oil generously when cooking karelas as they do not achieve a good flavour unless they are golden and they will got get golden without enough oil however hard you try!  You can however drain what remains after they are done if you choose to.
  3. Add  1/2 tsp cumin seeds and the well squeezed and patted dry karela slices and fry on a high heat until the slices get crispy edges and are golden- about 5-10 mins stirring frequently. When done, with a slotted spoon, remove the karela slices and set aside.
  4. You may need to add a tbsp or so of oil in the pan if there is none remaining from the frying of the karelas- you need about 2-3 tbsps in the pan at this stage.
  5. Add 1 tsp of cumin seeds and 1 tsp whole fennel seeds (if you really don’t like aniseed you can omit these, but they don’t taste aniseed-y in the same way that aniseeds do- particularly in this dish.   Instead they  add the most amazing dimension of taste of this dish) and allow to flutter before adding the finely chopped onions and green chilies.  Allow to fry until onions are translucent- about 3-4 mins
  6. Next add some spices- the ground coriander, garam masala, turmeric, red chili powder and some salt to taste- about 1 1/2 tsp is the standard amount I use in dishes.  Fry for about a minute.
  7. Add the potatoes and stir well.  Cover and cook on a low heat until half cooked- about 5-10 mins (depending on how large you cut the potatoes).
  8. Take the lid off and now add the sliced onion, karela slices, amchoor or lemon, sugar, and some extra garam masala if you like.  Stir well and cover and cook to allow the flavours to meld together and the sliced onions to soften and sweeten- about 10 mins.
  9. When cooked, remove from heat and stir well.  Taste for salt, sweetness and sour- adjust according to taste.  Don’t add too much sugar- there is not meant to be a sweet taste…the sugar is there purely to balance the flavours.  Sprinkle over the crushed fennel seeds, some roasted ground cumin and extra garam masala if you like.  Garnish with chopped coriander/cilantro if you have it and serve with a dal and or plain yoghurt and freshly made chapattis! Delicious!

A Series of Vegetarian Recipes In Dedication To My Tradition of Meat- Free Tuesdays. Today: Baingan Aloo – The Full Colour & Flavour Edition

The past few weeks I have thought about dedicating a regular weekly post to a particular kind of cooking or baking.  Of course I love all kinds of cooking, but as some of you may know, I have a soft spot for baking and hence why I decided to make this my profession.  Creating and crafting sweet bakes has been my passion since forever.

Since starting this blog a few years ago it is certainly starting to evolve to be true of  it’s description: “A  Scrapblog of global culinary adventures, delicious discoveries and picture memories punctuated by life.”  Over time, I have however, archived a number of posts that were off topic or that I feel are not relevant now.  This year I restarted the blog with the focus back on my culinary adventures.  Cooking has taken over the burden of being my Kitchen Therapist from Baking in recent times.   For me cooking and creating a meal is much more than experimenting with new flavours, cuisines, techniques and whatnot…it’s about sustenance, family, love, daily life and so much more.  Cooking brings family and friends together and hence why there is no one more I’d rather cook for.

Unlike with baking, most of what I cook is by estimation or Andaza (as my Mother or Grandmother would say) and so I have never really thought to document my recipes or trials having learnt the methods and techniques from my elders and stored them in my head is enough for the most part.  However, there are times when I do want to recreate a dish that came out well and I’d rather be sure that it turns out good again or I want to share a recipe and so I realise documenting them comes in handy.  More than this, cooking is not just about the recipes; as I indulge myself more and more in experimentation I realise and appreciate the memories that are attached to the dishes I either want to recreate or the flavour memories that I have stored that I want to try to incorporate into something new.  It is the memories that make the dishes special.  For me, my love for cooking has evolved from my memories most of which I have my family to thank for.

Being from a Hindu family, a lot of the Indian food that we eat is vegetarian.  My family origins are Punjabi and my Grandparents were born in what is now Pakistan before both sides of my family had to relocate and  they moved literally all over the world  (I will save that story for another day!).   Even though my family in general is not vegetarian (bar a few members that choose to be out of  preference), we do have some religious traditions that we follow such as auspicious days that we will refrain from eating meat.   These days include religious days such a s Diwali and the 10 days of  Navratri and many more depending on which sect of Hinduism you belong to or participate in.  These events happen once a year, but there are also many Hindus that follow weekly traditions such as when they are fasting in dedication to a particular deity.  My family do not follow any particular deities as our beliefs stem from the Vedas (religious /spiritual scriptures) rather than the deities.  However due to my family’s friendships in other Hindu communities, when they moved, they adopted some traditions from the other sects that their friends followed.

One of these traditions is abstaining from eating meat every Tuesday.  When I was younger I don’t remember being told why we didn’t eat meat on Tuesdays.  I didn’t find it strange as it became a habit and something that I didn’t think about.  As I got older and more inquisitive, I did start to ask questions and my mother told me that for us,  it was because Tuesday is the day dedicated to Lord Ganesh (The God of good luck and fortune)  and Lord Hanuman (The protector from evil).  She went on to explain the significance and that out of respect we refrain from meat on that particular day in worship to these deities.

I like that I have a background to why, and I continue to do it out of family tradition and religious respect, but it is not just about that for me.  I like that I am dedicating  at least one day a week to remembering my spirituality and secondly giving my body a break from meat.  However much I love all kinds of meat, my body always feels happiest after eating fruits and vegetables.

And to this I begin  my weekly series of Meat- Free Tuesday Recipes!  Every week I will endeavour to bring you a favourite or experimental Indian vegetarian recipe .  There are so many to share for the vegetarian recipes are what the Indian cuisine is built on.

Aubergine, Potato & Pepper Sabzi In Full Colour Baingan Aloo Sabzi

As with many vegetarian Indian dishes, this is utterly wholesome and packed full of flavour.  Ready to serve within 30 mins; it’s a great addition to a weekday recipe repetior when you’re short of time.

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 2 aubergines cut into 1 inch square chunks
  • 1 large potato cut into 1 inch square chunks
  • 1 large red pepper or 2 smaller ones cut into 1 inch square chunks
  • 2-4 tbsp sweet corn
  • 1 onion chopped finely
  • 1-3 green chilis chopped (to taste)
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1-2 tomatoes chopped
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4- 1/2 tsp red chilli powder (to taste)
  • 2 tsp coriander powder
  • salt to taste (about 1- 1 1/2 tsp)
  • 1 tsp garam masala (I use a homemade one that I have made in the Punjabi style)
  • 1 spring onion and or fresh coriander/cilantro finely chopped for garnishing (optional)

Method

  1. Toast the cumin & mustard seeds in 2-3 tbs oil. When fluttering, add chopped onions & green chillies and fry until translucent for a couple of minutes.
  2. Next add the tomato paste and tomatoes  and a tbsp or so of water.  Cook until oil leaves the tomato paste- stirring to avoid the masala touching down in the pan.
  3. Add the dry spices- turmeric, coriander, red chilli and salt cook for 1-2 mins
  4. Next add all the vegetables and stir well coating them all with the masala evenly.  If the veg start to touch down in the pan, add a couple tbsp of water .
  5. Bring the pan to the boil and sprinkle over garam masala.
  6. Put a lid on the pan and turn the heat right down to a low setting- a very gentle simmer and cook for 15 mins of until the potatoes are done.
  7. Take lid off and stir.  Garnish with sliced spring onions and or finely sliced coriander.
  8. Serve with fresh hot chapattis, yogurt and dal or alone with rice or a salad for a lighter meal.  It keeps well in the fridge for a few days.

A (small) change will do you good & My Sweet Potato Adventures with an Indian twist

Just as many of you out there, each year, as the new year draws closer I make my one of my reoccurring resolutions to live a healthier lifestyle. Full to the brim with enthusiasm and motivation,  we decide it is the optimum time to go on a “diet”, buy a gym membership, abstain from alcohol etc.  Once we pass the January Blues (January 23rd was supposedly the most depressing date this year) all this conscientious, extreme change manages to last until about mid February at the very best.

The whole point of a resolution is to follow through with something and make sure that you stick at it for the long run, right?  Very few people can adhere to strict rules and restrictions for long periods of time, and I am certainly not one of those people!  However, I do have a tendency to be passionate and obsess over anything new I get into- be it a hobby, a diet, cooking a kind of cuisine, researching a particular interest etc.  Unfortunately, I can lose interest just as easily if I get bored, or feel restricted.  What can I say?  I’m a stubborn bull and I like to do what I want to do. :) This year I decided to break the pattern.

As the new year approached, there were to be no more resolutions for me to obsess over for 2 months before I crashed and burned.  I made a decision to introduce small changes in my life that I would be happy to make, but more importantly, be able to sustain all year with the view to carrying them on indefinitely.  It meant the drastic instant results that I would usually aim for and sometimes achieve would not be happening, but I am content with this because I think the 80:20 rule fits me better than anything before:  being mindful and conscientious about what I am doing 80% of the time with that 20% of letting go bringing the balance I need.  No restrictions- just positive adjustments.  For example,  exercising regularly without the excuse of needing to go to the gym and in the kitchen, I am far more aware of not being overly excessive when it comes to fat, sugar and salt for everyday cooking.  It’s interesting to experiment and see if recipes work well with less or with interesting natural substitutes without compromising on the taste.  If not, not to worry because although with less frequency now, I will still enjoy these things and I will certainly not become fanatically against any of the things that I enjoy that may be deemed less healthy; we all know there are some things that need sugary, salty, buttery goodness! An example of this being, Kougin Amann, which I will be dedicating an entire day to make my own version in the near future!

It’s now March and I have to say that I have not felt this positive or energetic in a long time.  I feel a sense of freedom; I feel healthier and I am especially enjoying exploring and experimenting for the 80%.  The most important thing I have learnt is balance and this is slowly seeping into every aspect of my life.

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Recently, I have had quite a craving for sweet potato and I would usually just roast them or make a mash as I would regular potatoes, but the other day I decided to try them out with some Indian flavours. After rummaging in the fridge, I pulled out a fresh bag of kale and some root ginger.  I don’t know why Gobi Aloo Sabzi (A spiced dry curry of cauliflower and potato)  came to mind.  I think it was the ginger.  I love ginger in Gobi Aloo and there is a kind of sweetness that I can relate to the Aloo when then are cooked with the Gobi and ginger that I thought would work well with the sweet potato.  I thought the kale’s earthy tang would balance the sweetness of the potato just as the stalks of the cauliflower in Gobi Aloo do.  I cooked it more or less the same way I would Gobi Aloo and the result was a resounding success! The sweet potato and kale worked and balanced together beautifully with the ginger and spices.  The bonus of this dish is that it takes no longer than 15-20 mins to prepare and have ready to serve on the table.  I will certainly be cooking this colourful, nutritious and utterly more-ish version of sweet potatoes for years to come!

 Spiced Sweet Potato & Kale-  Shakarkand & Kale Subzi

This makes a good size dish that can serve up to 8 people if it is being accompanied by other dishes.  It can also be eaten alone or with rice and/or chapatti.  It’s delicious accompanied with plain yoghurt. And don’t worry about the left overs! This keeps well for a few days in the fridge.

Ingredients

  • 600g  yellow sweet potato (about 1 large or 2 small) cubed into 1-2cm cubes If you can’t find yellow, you can use white.
  • 1 tennis ball onion finely chopped
  • 1 bag of curly spring kale  (approx 180g) cavolo nero would also work well or other similar leaves
  • 25g ginger  peeled and grated
  • 1 green chili chopped finely
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 2 tbs dried fenugreek leaves ( Kasuri Methi) Avaliable in all Indian grocery stores.  If you can’t find it, you can leave it out as it is not essential
  • 2 tsp ground coriander seed powder
  • 1/4 red chilli powder (or to taste)
  • Salt to taste (about 1 1/2 tsp)
  • A few sprigs of coriander (cilantro) leaves chopped finely to garnish (optional)
  • Your choice of oil to cook with

Method

  1. Prepare all the ingredients as described above.
  2. Heat a wide based pan on medium high heat and add the cumin seeds to the dry pan.  Toss them once or twice to insure they don’t burn.  Once you start to smell the aroma from them add 3-4 tbsp of oil and let the seeds flutter.
  3. Now add the onions and green chilli and cook for a couple of minutes until the onions are slightly transparent.
  4. Add the ginger and stir for 10-20 seconds
  5. Add the spices- turmeric, red chilli,coriander and the salt and cook for about 1 min or so until you smell the rawness of the turmeric start to subside.  It will seem like the spices are sticking to the base of the pan if it is not non-stick, but don’t worry.  You don’t need to add more oil.  Just continue to stir.
  6. Now add the fenugreek leaves and stir for 10-20 seconds.
  7. Add the cubed sweet potato and stir to ensure they are coated well.
  8. Finally add the kale a handful or 2 at a time and thoroughly stir.
  9. When you have incorporated all the Kale, as you stir, bring the pan to a “boil” (put the pan on full heat for a minute) before putting a lid on it and turning the heat right down to a temperature that would be a very gentle simmer.  I say simmer, but there is no liquid in the dish and so I have given that as a reference for what temperature to use.
  10. Cook for about 10-15 mins depending on how large the pieces of sweet potato are.  The smaller they are, the quicker it will be.  Take off the lid half way and give it a stir.  The dish is cooked when the sweet potatoes are cooked.  Make sure you don’t over cook them to a mush, they are nicer when they still hold their shape.

Garnish and serve.

Bon  Appetit!