Okra! Okra!

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Last week I had the opportunity to attend a sit down dinner at The Ritz Carlton in San Francisco. Entree choices were steak, salmon and vegetarian.  I was so excited to see what the vegetarian plate would be. It revealed a spicy, exotic vegetarian Wellington served with a ” spiced tomato bhaji with okra”!! The Wellington turned out to be cabbage, sautéed with curry powder encased in a soggy dough. The tomato bhaji were big chunks of tomatoes and okra with a touch of nigella seeds, mustard and cumin . All this sat in a pool of a green sauce that was tasteless.

The event was inspiring but the food experience for me was sad ! Is it just my taste buds? Was it wrong for me to expect that the vegetarian plate would be tasty. Steak, salmon and dough encased cabbage? Sorry, it seems to me that vegetarians were considered second class!

Anyway, I found some lovely baby okra at the farmer market and decided to get over the “tomato bhaji with okra” served at the Ritz!

1 pound Okra   4 cups approximately, whole or cut into 1 inch pieces

1 onion yellow medium, sliced thin

1 tomato, medium, diced 1/4 inch size

1 teaspoon turmeric powder

1/4 teaspoon amchur( dry mango powder ) optional

salt to taste

2 – 3 tablespoons oil, olive, peanut, or coconut

  1. Heat a heavy bottomed sauté pan . Add oil.
  2. Add the onions and sauté for about 2-3 minutes.
  3. Add the okra and cook gently on medium heat for about 5-7 minutes. Okra should be half cooked.
  4. Add the turmeric, amchur, salt and tomatoes.
  5. Stir well so that the spices are evenly coating the vegetables.
  6. Cook another 5-7 minutes till the okra is tender.

Serve hot as a side dish!

 

” Lauki ” or Opo squash summer stew!


We can all relate to Comfort Foods ! The need at times for cooking and tasting a bowl of memories that soothes the body and heart. I have many such moments especially when I am homesick. Lately , I have been satisfying myself with several comforting dishes. It is not just the taste of them but the entire process of cooking that is ” comforting”. While I have added many dishes to my comfort foods list, there are some that belong to the many moons ago times of growing up in India.

One such dish is a simple , rustic style squash stew.  The squash is ” lauki” in Punjabi language and best known as ” opo” squash in the American markets.

1 medium sized squash , washed, peeled, cut into medium dice( 5-7 cups approximately)

1 large yellow onion, sliced

2 -3 large tomatoes, cored and diced

1 inch piece fresh ginger, chopped fine

2 tablespoons ghee or oil of choice

1 tablespoon turmeric powder

1 teaspoon coriander powder

1 jalapeño , whole, ( optional)

Salt to taste

  • Heat a pan. Add ghee.
  • Add onions and sweat for 3-4 minutes, till translucent
  • Add the ginger and cook for a minute.
  • Add the squash, turmeric, coriander and jalapeño
  • Stir well to evenly coat all pieces with the dry spices
  • Add the tomatoes ,salt and a 1/4 cup water.
  • Bring to a boil. Then lower heat and let simmer, covered for about 15-20 minutes

Comforting when accompanied by stormed rice.

NOTE : I did not peel the squash as it was very fresh and tender at the Farmer’s market .

As I enjoy my bowl of ” lauki”, I also think of hot summer afternoons in Calcutta more than half a century ago!!!! A simple lunch of the stew over a bowl of hot rice , accompanied by lemon pickle and plain yogurt.

For those of us who moved far away from home and have become dual rooted in adopting another home, these comfort food memories are very special.

Wild West Smoking Hot Potatoes Desi Style ( Indian style )!

   
 
A few more weeks and we will be bidding goodbye to Summer and welcoming Fall. This potatoe dish is simple and easy and very versatile. Sits pretty with gifts off your grill! Works well as a warm potato salad or a base for chaat and chole( Indian style chickpeas).

6-8 medium red potatoes, washed and cut into quarters lengthwise

2-3 tablespoons coconut oil or an oil with a high smoking point

2 tablespoons cumin seeds

2-3 jalapeños , cut into half, lengthwise, seed it to reduce heat

1 tablespoon asafetida ( optional)

2-3 teaspoons amchur ( dry mango powder ) 

Salt to taste

1/2 cup water or more

  • Heat a pan on medium heat and add the oil. 
  • Add the cumin seeds and toast till they are dark roasted . They will smoke and snap crackle and pop. Lower heat and cover if they pop out of the pan. 
  • Now add asafetida , stir and quickly add the potatoes. Stir to coat the cumin seeds on the potatoes. Add the water and cover to cook the potatoes  on medium heat. Stir every 10 minutes. 
  • Add amchur , jalapeños and salt in about 20 minutes of cooking. Stirring well. 
  • Potatoes should be tender cooked in about 30-35 minutes and yield a sauce that has a coating consistency.

Note: the amchur gives a sour and fruity taste that balances the smoky and earthiness of the cumin. The best substitute for amchur would be a tablespoon of balsamic Vinegar.

This is an intuitive recipe for you to make it your own. Cook it by taste and your preference and it will be perfect for you. 

Enjoy

Kitchen and Life intersect in my dirty Chai !!!

   
 
It was my day to set yogurt. The milk was set on the stove, fired up and the spatula ready for stirring. Milk needs to be first boiled and then cooled a bit. The starter culture added and then set in a warm place for this to transform into yogurt. Today, it’s a gallon of milk which means it will take about 15-18 minutes to come to a boil and all that stirring creates a beautiful froth. I love brewing a cup of tea so that I can savor it with a head of frothy milkiness! A treat , a ritual, a time to ponder on life and kitchen wisdom. Yogurt setting days usually mean focusing on Transformation……milk into yogurt! 

So, a lovely rhythm sets to the stirring of the milk in a stainless steel pot. This is an important step or the milk  solids will scorch at the bottom and that burnt taste  ruins both milk and yogurt. I am one with this process. I even notice that I tend to stir clockwise three times and anti clockwise twice. I just notice that I do that ..no analysis to why ? Life lesson : I’m practicing just witnessing! Ten minutes or so into this milk boiling a nutty, hot milky aroma begins to pervade my nose and kitchen . I grew up with this smell and it brings back memories. It also reminds me that my daughter dislikes this smell and gets nauseated . Life lesson: not everyone likes the same things and it is ok. 

There is a lovely foam about an inch thick that has formed on the top of the milk pot. I see the small bubbles that come through and pop. And finally the milk is bubbling and rushes up to the top of the pot and I turn off the heat at the perfect moment and no boiling over. A strong cup of tea has brewed too. 

I am ready for my treat.  I pour the tea into my mug and DARN it makes it to the two thirds mark. My husband made some extra coffee and so my mug is now full. A dash of sugar and  a couple of ladles of the milky froth and I have my Dirty Chai. Life lesson: be innovative .

The sipping of that mug of tea was priceless. 

Khatti Mitthi California Gobi( tangy sweet california cauliflower)

  
It all started when I wanted to check the consistency of the balsamic reduction that had been softly simmering for about 45 minutes. The fun began on the plate . The cauliflower was being cooked with some cumin and nigella seeds.

1 medium head cauliflower, cut into flowerettes, washed and drained

1 teaspoon nigella seeds

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon turmeric powder

1/2 teaspoon sumac

Salt to taste

3 tablespoons avocado oil

1 tablespoon balsamic reduction

  • Heat a large pan . Add the oil.
  • Add the cumin and nigella and toast on low heat till you hear the snap, crackle , pop!
  • Add the cauliflower , sumac and turmeric powder. Stir well to coat all the pieces.
  • Cook the cauliflower covered , on medium low heat till tender, stirring a few times. (10-15 minutes)
  • Serve drizzled with the balsamic reduction .

This dish tastes great. The smoky taste of the cumin is balanced with the slight bitter of nigella and there is nice fruity tang from the balsamic and sumac. This is Indian flavor with a California attitude.

You will taste the Earth, the Sun, the Moon and the Stars ! 

Chaat from ” another mother ” !

   
 
This chaat was made strictly by taste, refrigerator and pantry items available.

1 cup moong dal sprouts

1 cup Denice’s homemade , delicious sauerkraut 

1/2 cup tomato, chopped

2  1/2 tablespoons Balsamic- tamarind reduction

2 tablespoons of Habanero- carrot salsa

3-4 leaves Romaine lettuce, torn into bite size

1/4 cup red onion, chopped fine

1/4 cup Indian snack mix ( Bombay, Madras, Bhel choice )

  • Tossed everything in a mixing bowl with half the snack mix.
  • Served up with the other half sprinkled over! 

Yummy! 

KITCHEN LESSON :

Intuitive cooking by taste works very well. 

LIFE LESSONS:

  • Be bold with your knowledge. Let it guide you. Knowing the taste and texture of chaat , it was seamless to use the balsamic reduction and salsa. The sauerkraut added the tart, tangy and some texture.
  • Use what you have available to the best of your creativity.
  • Take a moment to savor and imbibe the lesson.
  • Breaking tradition is not bad. Tradition works as a good foundation.
  • Don’t feel the need to label everything. This dish is just tasty food! Salad , snack, appetizer, Indian, street food ……..just tasty ! 

Indian Rice Lentil casserole !Simple !  Easy ! Tasty ! 


A one pot lentil- rice casserole with a flavor inspired by South India ! An easy meal that satisfies traditional tastes.

1 cup Basmati rice, rinsed and strained

1 medium ,yellow onion, peeled , sliced fine

3 cups cooked Chana dal ( Bengal Gram lentils ) substitute split peas, garbanzo or black eye peas

1 small cauliflower, prepped into small flowerettes

1/2 bunch cilantro , washed, chopped, for garnish

3 tablespoons fresh ginger, chopped

3 tablespoons ghee or oil

1 teaspoon mustard seeds

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon  fenugreek seeds

8-10 curry leaves

1 tablespoon turmeric powder

2 dried red chilies ( optional )

1 large lemon , juiced

Salt to taste

2 cups water, hot

  • Heat a Dutch oven. Add ghee and temper spices in sequence starting with the whole chilies,  mustard, cumin and fenugreek.
  • Toast in ghee till for 2-3 minutes till they snap, crackle and pop!
  • Add curry leaves and turmeric. Then add the onions and ginger and sauté for about 5-6 minutes.
  • Add the rice and sauté it with the mixture for about two minutes .
  • Now add the cooked lentils, cauliflower , salt and the hot water.
  • Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer till water is almost absorbed.( 10-15 minutes)
  • Cover tightly.  Shut the heat and do not open the pot for 30 minutes.
  • Fluff the mixture and finish off with the lemon juice and cilantro!

Enjoy with cucumber raita, papad and favorite Indian pickle.

For the love of Spices !!!!!!

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Namaste !

Spices inspire my life !
We roast them and toast them
We pound them
We grind them
and selflessly they give their fragrance, taste and themselves to our food and our health!
A spoon of cumin seeds rubbed together between my palms is a connection to the beautiful women on the farm who have toiled hard to harvest the seeds.
Crack the peppercorns and you spike the dish with stories, travel and long forgotten history!
Spices keep me totally mindful when cooking a dish. It could be the simplicity of one spice or the complex layers of flavors of many, many spices. Jeera Aloo , a simple rustic dish of potatoes and cumin seeds. The complexity of food of the royal Courts of India ….more than 20 different spices in one dish.
Spices are wrapped around traditions . The Masala Dabba….. A common spice box in every Indian household. Picture the continuity of blessing when the mother packs the spice box for her daughter when she gets married.
I moved far away from home after marriage and everyday when I used the spices from my box, I was connected to family .
This deep connection to the spices for so many decades resulted in The Spice Whsiperer. Just recognizing the gift of people and connections on the path of self discovery.

Namaste all !

WTF!#* Turnip Tapas

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These began with pure inspiration and creativity. A by product of Mindfulness in the kitchen!

6 medium turnips, peeled and sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons mustard seeds, yellow , brown or black
A pinch of saffron…6-8 strands
1 level tablespoon of paprika
2 tablespoons of sherry vinegar
Salt to taste

Heat olive oil in a pan on medium heat.
Add the mustard seeds and toast them a couple of minutes till they snap, crackle and pop in sound and release a nutty aroma.
Add the saffron and toast a minute.
Now add the turnips , paprika and salt. Stir well. Cover and cook for about 5-7 minutes till turnips are tender.
Finish off with the vinegar and cook another minute or so to dry off the liquid.

Serve garnished with cilantro or parsley!
Here they were served with a plum grilling jam and spiced amaranth!

Kitchen ! Go from Stressed to Blessed

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With busy lifestyles, it is is not uncommon to be stressed about the kitchen. Healthy food that needs to be tasty, convenient and trendy!
Follow these tips and feel less stressed:
1. Open your mind.
2. Be Creative.
3. Build a recipe by available ingredients and favorable tastes.
4. Add the intention of love and good health to the dish when you are preparing it.
5. Be joyful , keep it simple and have fun cooking.

RECIPE for a BLESSED PASTA DISH !

1/2 kilo or 1 pound whole wheat pasta ( fusili, penne or your choice )
1 kilo or 2 pounds of vegetables in season and choice( asparagus, baby tomatoes, spinach or other market greens, carrots, peas….)
1/2 pound fresh paneer or
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
6-8 garlic cloves chopped or
1 teaspoon asafetida if you don’t use garlic
10-12 basil or tulsi leaves, chopped fine
1 teaspoon Italian seasonings ( optional) NO need to run and get some !
4 tablespoons olive oil or ghee

1. Prep the vegetables that you are going to be using.
2. Heat a pan . Add the fat. Add the garlic or asafetida . Add the pepper flakes. Add the prepared vegetables. Sauté a few minutes till they are tender.
3. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add some salt. Cook pasta as per instructions. Drain.
4. Toss pasta, vegetables , basil leaves ,crumbled paneer or Parmesan cheese together.
5. Season with salt if necessary. Enjoy with the family.

This will serve 4-6 people.