*Meat Free Tuesday* The Foolproof One Stop Masala For Virtually Any Indian Vegetable Dish

I have been extremely tardy with my *Meat Free Tuesday* posts the last few weeks!  It all started so well, but then I got caught up in friends and family time and never got around to posting.  Rest assured, I have continued with the ritual, albeit not blogging my efforts!  For this reason, I have a special post planned for next week that should make up for the missed entries.  Some hints as to the theme are that it will be spicy, sweet, savoury, refreshing and all about the outdoors! I hope you will come back to check it out!

In the meantime, I am sharing with you a simple, but favourite vegetarian dish of mine.  When I was a child I would always looked forward to this for two reasons: firstly because it contained paneer (Indian soft cheese), one of my favourite things to eat as a child and secondly it was always so colourful; you eat with your eyes first, right? My mother wouldn’t make this very often as my father prefered paneer in the bhurji style (crumbled and soft like scrambled egg) .  In this dish the paneer in compressed into blocks, cubed and then fried- you can buy both the blocks and pieces- fried and unfried at both Indian and regular supermarkets all over the UK.  If you buy the blocks, simply cube and deep or shallow fry until a gentle golden edge is achieved evenly.  A home made version is tastier and softer, but a little time consuming. It all boils down to the milk (no pun intended :) ) I say this because in Canada, the store bought paneer is excellent and I am sure it’s down to the milk.  I highly recommend the Canadian brand Guru Nanak if you have that in your area- saves a lot of time!   In the following weeks I shall be dedicating a post to paneer with a recipe of how to make your own at home as it’s a useful ingredient to make for use in both sweet and savory recipes as well as a great way to use up excess milk!

My mother would tend to make this dish when we had people over as it contains no real objectionable vegetable for the token fussy eater to dislike and so the chances are that it would be enjoyed by all.  The other reason I have chosen to share this recipe is because it is extremely versatile meaning that you can substitute other vegetables that you have to hand.  What makes this dish is the masala base.  If you can master this, you can apply this to virtually any vegetable combination with minor adjustments and or additions.  Each combination will taste different as the masala will enhance each vegetable’s natural flavour.  This recipe is simple, quick and delicious.

Mum’s Mixed Vegetable Subzi

Ingredients

For the base masala:

1 onion finely chopped

1-3 green chillies chopped finely (the long thin kind you get in Indian grocers Rocket chillis.  They have the best flavour and aren’t ridiculously hot- a less hot version of Thai bird’s eye chilies.  If in North America, I prefer the flavour of Jalapeno to Serrano chilies, but I have found Rocket chilies in some specialist stores there, too)

a handful of baby plum tomatoes halved/ the equivalent of what you have to hand or 1/2 a tin

1 tsp cumin seeds

2 1/2 tsp ground coriander

1/2 tsp garam masala plus extra for sprinkling

1/2- 3/4 tsp turmeric

1/2 tsp red chili powder (to taste, also bear in mind the heat you get from your green chilies and adjust accordingly)

salt to taste

3-4 tbsp oil

Additional spices specific to this dish

1tsp mustard seeds

1 tsp fennel seeds whole

1 tsp fennel seeds crushed for sprinkling

The Vegetables

1 carrot cubed

1 large or 2 small red peppers cubed

3-4 golf ball size potatoes cubed

1 pack of fine Kenya beans or fine french beans (about 200-250g) cut into 2cm pieces

To make it colourful- throw in some sweetcorn too if you have it

1- 1 1/2 cups cubed and fried paneer

coriander to garnish

Method

  1. To prepare the base masala that you can use with almost all vegetables, heat a wide based pan with 3-4 tbsp oil to a moderately high heat.
  2. Add the cumin, and for this particular recipe also add the mustard seeds and whole fennel seeds and allow to splutter.  You can use the mustard seeds with most vegetables also, but the fennel seeds tend to only marry well with certain combinations such as with aubergine, bitter gourd and okra- although for my taste, I wouldn’t put mustard seeds with either of the last two.  There is no wrong or right, per se- you just need to experiment and find the flavour combinations that you enjoy.
  3. Next add the onions and green chilies and allow the onions to become slightly translucent.  You do not need to caramelise them. About 5 mins.
  4. Then add the tomatoes and cook to soften them and you start to see the oil separating.  About 5 mins. (See picture above)
  5. Next add the ground spices- turmeric, coriander, red chili powder and salt.  (I always use about 1 1/2 tsp for most dishes and it’s fine.  You can adjust later too)  Fry these for a minute. Do not let them touch down in the pan.  This is now your base masala complete.   (See picture above)
  6. Now add all the vegetables and on high heat stir well to coat the vegetables with all the masala.
  7. Bring pan to a steaming heat and before putting on the lid to steam, sprinkle over the crushed fennel seeds and garam masala. For other vegetable combinations I would just use the garam masala, but it is not an essential stage- it can be omitted.
  8. Put a lid on and put the heat right down to the lowest setting on a gas cooker.  If you are using another kind of stove, bring the heat down to a 2-3 so that it’s just below a simmer.  You want to gently steam the vegetables without them catching on the bottom of the pan and without adding water.
  9. The dish is ready when the vegetables are cooked- about 10-15 mins.
  10. Garnish with fresh coriander and a little sprinkling of crushed fennel seeds if you like.

Serve with fresh naan or roti and yogurt.  This makes a great main dish or vegetable accompaniment.  Try it together with a dal for a complete vegetarian Indian meal.

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*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!