Sunday, February 26, 2012

The wonderful world of fresh chutney

I have been cooking lately, a lot, even for me, all Indian food all the time, which I hope my neighbors in my building appreciate as much as I do.  To be honest, I've probably tested their patience enough, though as of yet no one has slipped a note under my door telling me so...Indian spices are coming out of my pores when I exercise so they're most likely making their way down the common hallway as well.

But I can't stop.  These are not 30-minute meals; they're 3-hour experimental extravaganzas, difficult to blog because everything is so very new and fun that there's nothing in particular I can get a proper focus on.

Also, I've had trouble, which sounds sort of peculiar, arranging the food properly on a plate.  Normally, as you know, I let everything duke it out in a bowl, but that doesn't cut it with Indian meals because not all the items are friends with all the others, and the way you eat these meals is complex in itself, arranging little tasty mouthfuls of this and that, or this, that, and the other thing, spooning a bit of saucy curry over rice, dipping up some raita with a piece of flatbread, following a bite of something fiery hot with a cooling chaser.  In the end, I've settled on a sort of thali arrangement, like you might get in an Indian restaurant, with the different foods separated in bowls on a large round plate.  There are actual thali plates, big round metal plates with shallow indentations to keep the various foods separate, but I don't have one.  I do, however, have a lot of little bowls.

So yesterday it snowed all day, our first real snowstorm of this extraordinarily mild winter, and since I couldn't get out without making some kind of extraordinary effort, and since I'd just been to Chinatown on Friday with my friend Fi, where I found big fresh bundles of methi leaves and curry leaves and some gorgeous little bowls...okay, I found three large grocery bags of stuff but then I don't get to Chinatown all that often...anyway, I decided to make an afternoon of it and experiment with a few chutneys.

My guide on this journey has been Neelam Batra's 1,000 Indian Recipes.  This is a perfect book for Western cooks with intermediate Indian cooking skills, like me.  Apart from being big and heavy and of many pages, with recipes that are easy to follow and always work out, lots of definitions and explanations of basic techniques, and being very kind about giving the English as well as the Indian names for things (split pigeon peas and toor dal; fenugreek leaves and methi), it's an omni cookbook, but vegan friendly: all the vegan recipes are marked with a big "V" and you've got to love a cookbook where the meat recipes are consigned to a section called "Non-Vegetarian Fare."

In my family, we grew up making rhubarb chutney, green tomato chutney, fruit chili--boiled, jam-like concoctions, very sweet, that will keep in a sealed jar for ages.  But in Indian cooking, there are two main types of chutney--that "jammy" kind, called preserved chutney, and fresh chutney, which won't keep longer than a few days in the fridge and is more like a salsa.  This post is about the fresh kind, of which I made:

1.  Basic green chutney (Hari chutney)

I don't want to infringe on Ms. Batra's copyright, but here's Manjula's version.  Get together your green onions, cilantro, mint (frozen in this case), lime juice, green chilis, and sugar and process to a paste:

Add salt and pepper to taste.  You're done.  Easy peasy:

2.  Roasted dal and fresh green chile pepper chutney (Bhel-puri ki chutni)

Bhel-puri is a kind of Indian snack made with potatoes and puffed rice, and is served with many kinds of chutneys, including this one.  You can check out the recipe if you like on Google Books.  It's like the basic green chutney, but with split chickpeas (channa dal) added.  Start by roasting your washed dal:

Pan is lined with the remainder of a spice mix; I though it couldn't hurt...
While it's roasting, gather together your fresh ingredients and grind them up into a paste:

Once the dal is roasted:

...let it cool, then powderize it up in a spice grinder (I use the Magic Bullet):

Mix the dal with the green paste, add salt to taste:


3.  Roasted coconut chutney (Bhunae nariyal ki chutni)

Here's a version from Mamta's Kitchen.  A really pretty start: 

Lightly roast all this stuff together, until it turns into this:

Pretty, isn't it!
...while you bake your dessicated coconut in the oven on low heat until it's golden.  The smell from this is simply amazing:

Grind up the coconut.  Mine turned into a sort of delicious roast-coconut butter.  Not sure if that's right, but it's what happened and the results were yummy, so I won't complain:

This chutney is a little more complex.  You finish it off with a tarka of oil, mustard seeds, dried hot peppers...

...curry leaves and asafoetida:

Add the ground spice mix to the ground coconut along with some tamarind paste and the tarka: get the finished chutney:

This looks a little dull, perhaps, but it is packed with flavour, and I ate way too much of it just as is.

4.  One more, a dal-based chutney this time, which is meant to be stirred into yogurt, Yogurt chutney with roasted dals and spices (Dahi aur bhuni dal ki chutni).  Start with some dry split chickpeas, urad beans, and mung beans (channa dal, urad dal, and moong dal):

Dry roast them:

The rest is all tarka.  Start with black mustard seeds and dried chilis:

Add curry leaves, dried coconut, chopped ginger and fresh chili, and asafoetida:

I should have used a bigger pan

Roast it some more:

Now separately grind up the dals in a spice grinder, add cilantro to the spice mix, and grind that all up too, and mix everything together: that you've got all these chutneys, how to use them?

First, you can make big batches and freeze them in little portions, in an ice cube tray, for instance, so you don't have to go through all this trouble more often than occasionally.  I made little batches because I was experimenting.

The chutneys can all be served plain as a condiment, perhaps with a bit of water added to make them softer.

They can be mixed up with yogurt, or yogurt and cold vegetables like cucumber and/or tomato, to make another kind of chutney, or a raita, or with warm vegetables to make a side dish.

Spread them into a sandwich.

Use them as a dip or salad dressing.

Mix them up with cooked rice for flavoring.

Pour them (with or without yogurt) over cooked vegetables.

Have them with yogurt and bread as a quick little meal or snack.

Use them for adding a burst of flavour to soups and stews.

Don't forget to label them!

Here's something I made up, though I'm sure it's not original.  I mixed some fresh sesame-peanut chutney with a little water and two tablespoons of chickpea flour to make a paste:

...then stuffed some little Indian eggplants with it:

...and fried them on low heat, covered, until the eggplants were tender and the chickpea flour was cooked through:

So good!'s still snowing.  I wonder what I'll get up to today?  I did pick up some amaranth leaves in Chinatown...

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Airy Way Goes to Ikea, or I Am Not a Hoarder

My aunt Katee is one of the most inspiring people I know.  A graphic artist by profession, she's a magician with Photoshop and to her god bless her I owe my entire understanding of the use of Layers; she's a wonderful cook, she takes care of everyone around her in all kinds of ways, and everything she does she does with amazing artistry and style.  She also made me this cute little button bouquet in a pepper shaker.

Anyway, yesterday morning she, my other aunt Jane, my mom and I were over at my Grandma's.  Jane has just renovated the whole kitchen of her very old (but new to her) house, and we were looking at pictures of that, got into gardening (Jane and I are both planning to try square foot gardening this year), books, household organization in general, cooking and food of course (Katee ran out to her car to get some seasoned Korean nori she had just bought for us to try) and in general having a lovely time. 

Then Katee started describing how she had recently reorganized her freezer.  Katee can describe something like "cleaning out the freezer" and make it sound virally appealing.  Katee and I also have the same obsession outlook about buying food.  Like, why buy a package of seasoned nori when you can buy a box?  Like, really, that kale looks so good, how can you just pick up one?  Like, hey, that almond milk is on sale if you buy 12 cartons--so why not?  You like it, and it's vacuum packed, it'll last.  We shop at Costco.  We love ethnic food stores.  We both have that thing where you start out virtuously making just a little stew in a little pot and keep adding bits of this and that until you've changed pots three times and are somehow now making a whole lot of stew in a giant stockpot.  But it's really good stew ;-)

But back to freezers, I've been having increasingly negative experiences with mine.  It's a deep freezer and, um, too full.  I know what's in there, clean it out regularly, try to organize it, but after a pretty short time things get all mixed up until...

Agh!  This is pretty much maximum entropy, after a frustrating search for almonds that I never did find.  I love my freezer, but this is absurd.  So after the visit, all fired up with excitement and enthusiasm, Zoa and the Moon Goddess went to Ikea. 

Shopping at Ikea is like a happy dream until you want to leave, when it becomes a nightmare because the stores are all laid out so that you...can't...get...out...all the Exit signs are misleading...there is no go round and round, increasingly panicked, pushing your way through shoppers who have morphed into shuffling zombies, until....  But we'll focus on the fun part.  I bought all kinds of neat stuff, most of which will be showing up on this blog at one time or another. 

Among other things, I bought three medium sized plastic containers, one for nuts:

One for grains:

And one for seitan/tofu:

Then I took everything out of the freezer, and put it all back, and...

Dang!  Still too full.  But neater.  Much neater.

I bought another spice rack thingy, to store some of the new spices and spice mixes previously crammed into a cupboard.  Here's what my kitchen looks like now:

Kind of busy, I admit, but I needed the cupboard space and was tired of many tiny containers falling out all over every time I tried to find something in the spice cupboard.  A tip to the wise: when you make a spice mix, make sure to label it somehow.  Probably you think you'll never forget what's in that jar, but you will.  Learn from my mistakes:

All this industry was a little overwhelming, if not downright scary.  Wise cats watch from a safe distance:


While I was at it, I cleaned out the freezer part of the refrigerator:

The fridge freezer never ordinarily looks this neat

...the fridge itself:

Yeah, my fridge pretty much always looks like this
...the basement auxiliary food storage area:

...the basement itself...

Clearly, I can never move
When I talk about "the stacks," I mean this...

Yes, you can click for a view of some of the titles.  Go on, I know you want to ;-)

...and this.  Here's my little sub-fridge for sauces and the like (and the side of another stack):

Then we cleaned out some closets and drawers, tidied up the kitchen table centerpiece:

...and realized we were tired and parched and very, very ready for a drink:

It's a well known fact that cats become exhausted watching other people work.

And that's the story of my day.  A few disclaimers:

1.  On the non-vegan containers: members of my family and I swap food regularly, and tend to re-use disposable containers for this purpose, and these often get re-re-used here.  They're not vegan, but I am, honest!

2.  I never, ever, let the cat walk around on the counter.  It's unsanitary and disgusting.  Or the kitchen table.  Right, Cheeta?  Uh, right?

Sure.  Whatever.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Tomato sambal with eggplant

Attracted by those adorable little baby eggplants but don't know what to make with them?  Here's a recipe for you!  You could, of course, also use pieces of larger eggplants, but this is more fun.

It's based on the Tomato sambal in Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian, only her version is made with fresh tomatoes and doesn't include eggplant.  It's a forgiving recipe that you can customize to your own taste, or double or triple if you have more people to feed.

Start with heating a little peanut oil in a small skillet.  If you, like me, pour off the fragrant oil from the top of your jar of peanut butter, this is a good place to use it.

When the oil is hot, add a peeled, crushed garlic clove or two, and your eggplants, which you have sliced in a deep cross almost up to the stem, so they stay whole but can open up a little to receive the flavours of the sauce.  Stir and fry until the garlic is golden, then add a cinnamon stick and a small handful of curry leaves.  Madhur Jaffrey always says that if you can't find curry leaves, you can use fresh basil, and that that will give you a different but also good taste.  No doubt, but if you can possibly lay your hands on some fresh curry leaves, do.  They have a very special, utterly appetizing, popcorn-like fragrance, and they freeze well--these ones have been in the freezer for probably a couple of months and have a bit of freezer burn but they're still fine:

Stir that for a quick minute, then add thinly sliced onions:

...and continue to fry, stirring occasionally, until the onions are caramelized:

By now, your kitchen is filled with the most amazingly lovely smell--the combination of all these things was made in some kind of East Indian heaven world, I'm sure--and add some canned tomatoes given a quick whirl with an immersion blender, plus some fresh, thinly sliced garlic:

Marvel at its beauty for a minute ;-), then season with salt and pepper, cover, and cook on low heat until the eggplant is perfectly tender.  Here's the whole, stupendous meal:

What it is is lentils topped with spinach briefly stir-fried with chopped ginger and further topped with caramelized onions (also from World Vegetarian), the tomato sambal with eggplant, and some cubes of butternut squash slow-fried in a very little bit of peanut oil and a dash of panch phoron (and no water; covered, in a non-stick pan, this worked wonderfully but I think you'd need to use a squash like butternut that will hold its shape if you want it to retain its cubitude; with kabocha, for instance, I think you'd likely end up with a very delicious mess).  There's also a dab of tofu yogurt on the side.  Fantastic.