Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Indian vegetarian food from a Kazakh kitchen

For the longest time, I had a big aversion to cilantro and its relative, lovage, which is used as cilantro in all of Central Asia.  Both herbs tasted like soap and I could not come up with a better way to ruin a dish than to add cilantro or lovage to it.  Fortunately, through years of dedicated practice (riiiight), I came to see cilantro for what it is - a lovely way to add brightness to a dish.  Now, I can't imagine either Baigan Bharta or Chana Masala in this post without a generous handful of cilantro. It adds freshness to cooked spices, bringing them out of the doldrums and back into life.

The Chana Masala, courtesy of Orangette is a staple in my house, a perfect easy meal pulled together from pantry staples and trusted spices, comfort at the end of the day.  The Baigan Bharta has long been an obsession, but I disliked the greasy version often found in take-out.  Fortunately, with the eggplant season still in full swing, I've had plenty of time to experiment with multiple recipes and find the one that I liked.  My mom especially loves this dish and has been a content Kazakh tucking into Indian vegetarian food.

Baigan Bharta
1 medium - large eggplant
1 medium tomato
2 cloves of garlic
1 medium onion
1/2 inch knob of ginger
1 medium jalapeno or 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne
2 - 3 tablespoons of olive oil or ghee
1/2 teaspoon of black mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon of cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon of ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon of turmeric
1/2 teaspoon of chili powder
1 teaspoon of garam masala
Sale to taste and a generous handful of cilantro to finish

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Wash the eggplant and prick it all over with a fork or a tip of a knife. Roast it (I like lining the baking sheet with foil for easy clean-up) for 45 minutes or until it is soft and sort of collapses into itself.

Meanwhile, heat up a large deep skillet with a couple of tablespoons of oil or ghee over low-medium heat.  Chop the onion and tomato into cubes, finely chop garlic, ginger and jalapeno, if using.  Drop the onion in the pan and fry until it starts turning golden, then add the garlic, ginger, and jalapeno.  Fry for another minute or so, until your kitchen starts smelling like the promise of dinner.  Add another tablespoon of oil and fry the spices for a minute also, moving them around, so that they do not burn until fragrant.  Drop in the tomato, letting it release its juice for a couple of minutes.  Add a couple tablespoons of water, cover, and simmer on low heat for 5-10 minutes to let flavors become friendly.  

Once the eggplant has reached its collapsed state, carefully take it out and let cool, so that you can handle it.  Once cooled, split it in half and scoop out the flesh with a large spoon onto a big cutting board.  Run your knife through the seedy flesh, further breaking down the fibers.  Note how strong eggplant skin is.

Add the eggplant to the pan, mix well and let cook for another 10 minutes under the lid.  Season well with salt and stir in plenty of cilantro.  If you hate cilantro, try a bit of mint or green onion.  Serve with rice and Chana Masala.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Vareniki, granola, and apple bread

Our mom is in the States for 3 months. She spends most of her time in NYC, so I don’t get as many goodies as my sister does. During this week when she was visiting, I tried to squeeze in as many dishes that we wanted to exchange on the menu. One of the things that I miss the most about mom’s cooking, is hand-rolled pasta dough and 10,000 dishes she uses it for. We made a slightly gourmet version of vareniki, traditional Ukrainian ravioli, apple bread, and granola. I made some tweaks to the apple bread recipe from smittenkitchen.com and staple granola recipe substituting sugar for agave.
Apple bread: substitute a cup of oil and sugar for ½ cup of oil and ½ of agave.

4 cups of regular oats
generous pinch of salt
1/3 cup of agave
1/3 cup of vegetable oil
3 cups of assorted chopped nuts, seeds, and dry fruits. I used walnuts, sunflower seeds, dried apricots, and raisins.
Bring the oven to 300F. Mix oats, salt, agave, and oil.Spread the mixture evenly on a cookie sheet or non-alumni baking sheet. When using alumni baking sheet cover it with parchment paper, because aluminum might alter the taste of some foods.
Bake for 1 hour. Mix in nut, seed, and fruit mixture and bake for another 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. Refrigerate in a closed container for up to 2 weeks.
1.5 – 2 cups of white flour
pinch of salt
1 egg
1 cup (at the most) of tepid water
Mix 1.5 cup of flour and salt. Make an indentation in the flour mixture and add the egg. Mix in the egg breaking it gently. Start adding water a little bit at the time and mix it in. Add enough water to form a dough. Knead the dough on a floured surface until it becomes soft and elastic adding flour and water if needed for about 3-5 minutes. Cover the dough with a bowl or plastic wrap and let it rest for 10-15 minutes.
Uncover the dough and knead for another 3-5 minutes. The dough should be very easy to
work with and should not be sticky. Split the dough into 2 balls. Cover one, while you roll out the other into a 1/6 inch thick disk.
Cut into circles of dough using a cookie cutter or a glass. Cover the sheets with a towel to prevent drying out.
2 medium size yellow squash
2 medium size russet potatoes, skins removed
salt/pepper to taste
olive oil
Preheat the oven to 400F. Split squashes in a half forming boats. Brush squash with olive oil, sprinkle salt/pepper, and bake for 30 minutes. Bring a pot of salted water and boil potatoes for 20 minutes.
Scoop out the flesh of squash, strain potatoes, and mash with a little olive oil until smooth. Using immersion blender makes this a little easier. Adjust salt and pepper.
Take a dough circle, place about a teaspoon of filling on one side and close the pocket. Place vareniki on a floured surface until you assemble all of them.
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and carefully drop vareniki. Boil on high heat until vareniki start floating on surface. Scoop out carefully.
Eat right away with a little butter, pesto, or any other light and herb sauce.