Chana Masala (Chickpea Curry)

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I have been spoiled, in that until recently I have always lived near at least one really good Indian restaurant. Now that the closest one with decent food is about 30 minutes away, I have been making do with a lot of Trader Joe’s frozen Indian dishes. That is, until about a month ago, when I decided that it was time to learn to make a few of my favorites myself. 
 
This recipe is the product of that project. I can’t speak to its authenticity, but it certainly tastes better than its frozen counterpart, and it’s made with ingredients that can be readily picked up at any grocery store, making substitutions like lemon juice for amchoor. In this recipe, I chose to use Penzey’s garam masala blend, but if you’re feeling ambitious, you can always try making your own from scratch. I have also used halved cherry tomatoes instead of canned diced tomatoes, and while the texture is different, the flavor is excellent. You can also tweak the heat by using any combination of hot curry powder, hot peppers, cayenne, or none depending on how much heat you want. Tonight, I used a jalapeno, the cayenne, and a half tablespoon of hot curry powder along with a half tablespoon of sweet, and it was enough to make your head sweat. Consider yourselves warned.
 
Chana Masala
  • 1 T oil or ghee
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 T garlic, minced
  • 1 T ginger, minced
  • 1 chile such as a jalapeno pepper, seeded and deveined, finely chopped (optional)
  • 1 T garam masala
  • 1 T curry powder
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 1 tsp brown mustard seeds
  • 1 15 oz can diced tomatoes
  • a pinch of sugar
  • 1 15 oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 C water
  • juice of half a lemon
  • salt
  • scallions 
  • cilantro

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. When the oil is hot, add the onion, ginger, garlic, and chile pepper if using. Saute for about 5 minutes, until the onion is soft and beginning to brown a bit. Stir in the garam masala, curry powder, mustard seeds, and cayenne pepper. Let cook 1-2 minutes. Pour in the tomatoes and their juices, and use a wooden spoon to scrape any brown bits off the bottom of the pan. Stir in a pinch of sugar to the tomatoes, then add the chickpeas, water, and lemon juice. Bring to a boil, then reduce the temperature and let simmer uncovered for 10-15 minutes. Before serving, season with salt. Taste and add more salt or more lemon juice if a little more sharpness is needed. Garnish with chopped scallion greens and cilantro. Serve with naan, bhature, or rice.

Serves 4.

Spicy Carrot Soup with Cilantro-Lime Puree

Carrot Soup

It’s that time of year, friends. There’s a singular nip in the air most mornings. My cat wants to spend every waking moment roaming down by the river. I bought a long sleeved shirt and broke out an extra blanket for the bed. Finally, today, I turned the heat on. Autumn is here, and it’s soup time.

It’s also cold season. My husband caught a cold and passed it to me. I promptly passed it back to him, worse than I received it. Yes, soup was needed in this house. Still feeling lethargic, I wanted to make a soup that was easy, tasty, and packed with nutrients. Carrots, then! Carrots, besides bearing bright-orange beta carotinoids, are chock full of vitamins A, C (goodbye, colds!), K, potassium, thiamin, niacin, fiber, plus other good stuff. Coupled with ginger, which has anti-inflammatory properties and boosts immune system performance, I figured the carrots in this soup would hit my cold with a knockout punch.  I threw in some other warming spices, including a healthy amount of my garam masala to give the soup a gentle, warming spice. Yum! To contrast with the aromatic spices in the soup, I made a simple cilantro lime puree to drizzle on top. It was great, but if you’re not feeling the effort, just sprinkle on some chopped cilantro and a squeeze of lime.  Or drizzle on some sesame oil.  Whatever speaks to you.

Carrot Soup

The cilantro-lime purée spoke to me.

Both soup and purée tasted great too. I liked the minimal effort they took, and I loved getting to break out my immersion blender. Do you have one of those? Because if not, you must get one. I have had mine since last Christmas. I kept putting off using it, assuming it would be difficult to clean or a pain to use. Nay, nay – I was wrong. It was easy, it was fun, and it was so easy to clean. If you have one, use it. Use it often. If you don’t, then buy one. They range from $30-$100. It’s worth every penny. I use this Cuisinart (a $30 model), and I am already planning more soups just so I can use it more.

Since I figured this won’t be the only cold I get this season, I made a great big pot of this soup and froze half of it.  The great thing about too much soup is getting to put some away for when you need it again.  And next time, I’ll have nothing to do but warm it on the stove.

Carrot Soup

Spicy Carrot Soup with Cilantro-Lime Puree

  • 1 T peanut oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1″ piece of ginger, grated
  • 4 C water
  • 1 1/2 lbs carrots
  • 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
  • juice and zest of 1 lime
  • 1 T soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp garam masala

Wash carrots and peel if using conventional, non-organic carrots.  Cut the carrots in 1″ pieces and set aside.  Heat peanut oil in a large, heavy bottomed pot over medium-high heat.  When the oil is hot, add the onion, ginger, and garlic.  Saute until the onion is soft and translucent, stirring occasionally to keep the garlic from burning.  When the onions are soft, add the carrots to the pot and pour in the water.  Add the salt, red pepper, soy sauce, garam masala, lime juice and sesame oil– reserving the lime zest.  Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat so that the soup stays at an active simmer.  Cook this way for 20-30 minutes, until the carrots are easily pierced with a fork and soft.  Remove from heat.  Using an immersion blender, puree the soup.  I like to leave a bit of texture but remove any chunks of solid vegetable.  If you want a silkier texture, puree the soup in batches in a conventional blender.  When the soup is blended, stir in the lime zest and taste for seasoning.  Add salt, if needed, until the carrot flavor is bright.  Serve drizzled with cilantro-lime puree.

Serves 4.

Cilantro-Lime Purée

  • 1 1/2 C cilantro leaves, washed and packed
  • juice of 1/2 a lime
  • 2 T peanut or other neutral tasting oil
  • pinch of salt

Using an immersion blender, purée the ingredients together until they are smooth.  Add a bit more oil or water as needed to achieve a thin consistency that is easily drizzled.

Makes about 1 C of purée.

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Asparagus and Garlic Scape Tart with Polenta Crust

Asparagus Tart

Last weekend I found myself in Blacksburg, VA on Saturday morning, with a long drive ahead of me back to West Point.  I decided to check out their farmers’ market so I wouldn’t miss out on a week of local shopping.  It was quite possibly the best market I have been to.  After making the rounds at the Blacksburg Farmers Market, I ended up with a huge bounty of beautiful produce to take home, and we only went $2 over our $20 spending limit!  (I have to impose spending limits at the market, or else I will buy more food than we can eat before it spoils).  Strawberries, raspberries, cherries, apples, rhubarb, butter lettuce, asparagus, garlic scapes, radishes, herbs– I couldn’t believe what I came away with.  I knew I would use these foods to concoct a meal for this year’s One Local Summer challenge.

Now, I have to admit I cheated a bit with the meal.  Generally, the meals are restricted to only local foods with spices, oils, vinegars, and things of that nature also allowed.  I am a little fuzzy on the rules for dry goods, but as I had them filling my pantry, I decided I would go ahead and use them.  After my Anadama Bread, I have a lot of polenta left, so I wanted to use it.  You can use any polenta recipe you like to make this tart crust.  The polenta is full of flavor and adds texture to the recipe, bringing a richness to the tart.  This plays off the green flavors of the asparagus and garlic scapes, which are slowly roasted in the oven as the tart cooks.  This tart is a simple concotion, but it bursts with spring flavors.  It’s a great way to show off new produce!

Asparagus and Garlic Scape Tart with Polenta Crust

for the polenta crust:

  • 1 C polenta
  • 1/2 C chicken stock (veggie stock to make it vegan)
  • 2 1/2 C water
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp Italian seasoning (or a blend of rosemary, thyme, parsley, sage, and oregano)
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • pinch of red pepper flakes

for the tart filling

  • 1/2 lbs of fresh asparagus
  • 1/2 lbs of garlic scapes
  • 1 onion
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Start by cooking the polenta.  Bring the water and stock to a boil.  Slowly pour in the polenta while whisking constantly to prevent lumps.  Season the polenta with the salt, Italian seasoning, and peppers.  Reduce the temperature on the polenta so that it is barely simmering.  Cook, stirring very frequently for one hour.  Be careful, as the polenta will have a tendency to bubble and pop, and it will be very hot and sticky!  After an hour, remove the polenta from the heat and let it cool a bit.  You may drizzle in some olive oil or add some butter if you’d like.  Spray a tart pan with spray oil.  When the polenta is cool enough to handle, spread it about 1/4 inch thick on the bottom of a tart pan with a removable bottom.  Press polenta up the sides of the pan, as well.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate the crust until you are ready to bake the tart– up to one day.  You can also double the polenta recipe and use half for the tart crust and the rest for another recipe.

When you are ready to begin preparing the tart, preheat your oven to 425º.  Remove the crust from the refrigerator, dock the bottom with a fork, and lightly drizzle olive oil on the crust.  Bake until the crust is golden and crispy– about 25 minutes.

While the tart crust bakes, trim the tough ends from the asparagus.  Cut all asparagus to roughly the same length.  Then, cut the garlic scapes to match.  Toss with olive oil and lemon juice, season with salt and pepper, and set aside.  Slice the onion into thin half moons.  Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a medium skillet, and saute the onion until it is very clear and translucent, and just beginning to caramelize– about 10 minutes.  Remove the onion from the heat.

After you remove the tart crust from the oven, fill the tart with the onion.  Arrange the garlic scapes on top of the of onion in a circle.  Then, layer the asparagus on top of that with the tips facing the same direction.  Bake the tart at 425º for 15 minutes.  Reduce the heat to 350º and continue baking for another 30 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes before slicing.  The tart will be a little tricky to slice, so use a sharp knife and have something to lift it out of the pan.

Serves 6 as part of a meal, or 2-3 as a standalone dish.

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BBA #3: Bagels (and a topping recipe)

Bagel Sandwich

Since embarking on the Bread Baker’s Apprentice challenge, I have really been looking forward to making the bagels.  Before I moved to Virginia, I had a small problem– shall we say– with bagels.  In particular, everything bagels are irresistable to me.  I love them.  I’ll eat them plain, buttered, with raspberry jam.  Nothing compares to a bagel sandwich made with those savory little toppings crusting the bagel.  Athens afforded me many opportunities to eat them.  My favorite coffee shop sold great ones, Big City Bread made good ones, and Zim’s Bagel Bakery had perfected them.  When my husband and I visit Tallahassee every year, we always seek out Bagelheads for a bagel sandwich served with crunchy cole slaw on our way out of town.  Now, Zim’s has closed and I have moved.  I thought great bagels would be easier to find, but there are no good bagels that I have found or tried up here yet.  I vowed they would be one of the first things I made in my new kitchen.  Before I got the chance, though, I signed up to bake my way through this book, and one of the major motivations to do so was that bagel recipe.  

Now that I’ve made the bagel recipe, let me say that I recommend it strongly.  The bagels are perfect.  They are chewy, they are flavorful, and they are easy.  They do take a bit of time, but I would ask that you not be put off by that.  Most of the time is spent waiting, not working.  I decided to begin my bagels this past Saturday evening, after returning from a quick overnight trip to Blacksburg.  I was a little tired, but I really wanted to have these available for Sunday’s lunch.  We usually skip breakfast on Sundays, so I figured this would make the perfect meal.  My husband adores everything bagels as much as I do, so this was a treat he was really anticipating.

I started by making the sponge according to Reinhart’s directions.   I took a large mixing bowl, and mixed the yeast into the flour.  I did not use high-gluten flour, so I added 1 teaspoon of vital wheat gluten to each cup of bread flour in the sponge; this came out to 4 teaspoons.  I added the vital wheat gluten to the measuring cup before scooping out the flour, so that the flour would equal 1 cup minus 1 teaspoon of actual bread flour.  I added room temperature water, covered the sponge in plastic wrap, and left it for two hours.

Bagel Sponge

After two hours, the sponge had doubled in size, and it was bubbly and foamy.  It did not collapse when I tapped the bowl on the counter, but degassed very quickly when I poked it.  Close enough.  I added the additional yeast to the sponge and the remaining flour.  I added vital wheat gluten to this bread flour in the same way that I did for the sponge.  I also added salt and malt powder.  I mixed per the recipe directions, adding the final 3/4 C of flour after the dough made a ball.  I then removed the dough from the bowl and proceeded to knead.  As usual, I kneaded by hand.  The dough quickly reached the correct temperature, but failed to windowpane after 15 minutes of kneading.  I continued kneading for another 15 minutes before my dough passed the windowpane test.  The dough also stayed very tacky throughout much of the kneading, so I continued adding flour until the texture became satiny and did not stick to my hands.  I probably added another cup of flour in this manner.  I am not sure of the exact measurement, as I add the flour very slowly– a small handful at a time.  

At this point, I divide the dough up with my bench scraper, shaped the dough into rolls, and let it proof under a damp towel for 20 minutes.  When I returned the rolls had risen a bit and were beautiful.  I lined two baking pans; for one I used my Silpat, and the other I used parchment paper.  I misted each with spray oil, and shaped my bagels.  I placed 6 bagels on each pan, covered them with plastic wrap, and let them hang out for another 2o minutes.  After the time had passed, I filled a large mixing bowl with room temperature water and dropped a bagel in.  It floated, so I knew they were ready to be retarded in the fridge.  This was the most punctual dough I had worked with yet.  

Sunday morning, I awoke and removed my bagels from the fridge. They had risen just a bit overnight, but they looked great and were ready to boil. 

Bagels Shaped

I boiled the bagels for 1 minute per side in water with a tablespoon of baking soda added.  I ended up boiling three bagels at a time so as not to crowd the pot.  As soon as I removed the bagels, I sprinkled on my everything bagel topping (recipe at the bottom of the page).  When all the bagels had been boiled, I baked them on two racks in the center of my oven at 500º.  After 5 minutes I lowered the temperature as directed. After another 5 minutes, I didn’t feel like the bagels were quite baked enough, so I let them bake another five minutes.  They came out a beautiful golden brown.  

Bagels

This was definitely my favorite recipe so far, and the everything bagel topping I made tasted just like those in my favorite bagel shops.  Below, I have the quick recipe for the quantities needed to top a dozen bagels.  It’s not much in terms of a recipe, but it will make your bagels taste divine. 

Bagel Topping

Everything  Bagel Topping

  • 4 tsp poppy seeds
  • 4 tsp sesame seeds
  • 4 tsp dried garlic flakes
  • 4 tsp dried onion flakes
  • 4 tsp coarse grained kosher or sea salt

Mix all ingredients together well in a small bowl.  Use to liberally top bagels as soon as they emerge from their water bath.  Store any leftovers in an airtight container.  Will keep up to two months.

Tops 12 large bagels or 24 mini bagels.

This is some more yeasty goodness I’m sending over to Yeastspotting.

The Bread Baker’s Apprentice challenge was developed by Nicole of Pinch My Salt. You can see what we’re baking this week at our Flickr group, on Twitter (#BBA), or check out the challenge page.

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Easy, Classic Spaghetti Sauce

 

Easy, Classic Spaghetti Sauce

Easy, Classic Spaghetti Sauce

 

 

I feel a little ashamed posting two spaghetti recipes back-to-back.  But, I’ve got neither the time to blog nor the time to cook lately to provide me with an alternative.  Today marks the third morning I’ve woken up in our new house.  After packing my kitchen up  completely over a week ago, I have been jonesing to get back in a kitchen and make something.  Anything, really.  So, on Monday I set to unpacking our living room and kitchen first off.  I may still be pulling my clothes out of boxes, but I am going to have my pots and pans!  The challenge after unpacking then became groceries.  I had donated all my non-perishable food to the Athens Area Emergency Food Bank before I moved, and I brought only my spice collection with me.  Upon arrival, I discovered that we have one grocery store in town, a small Food Lion, so I will be traveling 20-30 miles every week to get my shopping done.  Meanwhile, The Hubz was requesting spaghetti for dinner.  This was a meal I felt confident our little grocery could deliver.  

Now, spaghetti can be sauced with a million things, but I like classic, tomatoey red sauce when I crave “spaghetti.”  And, to this end, I prefer canned tomatoes.  If you choose the right ones, you’ll end up with a sauce that’s perfectly thick and “smooth-enough” for the standards outlined in Mark Bittman’s article.   I like to use crushed tomatoes– they require zero effort, and they make a perfect sauce.  As usual, this sauce comes together very simply, and it doesn’t require a lot of work.  It’s tomatoey, garlicky, and has just a touch of zing.  It will keep in the refrigerator, should you have leftovers, for three days.  It will freeze, as well.  The recipe makes enough sauce to dress one pound of pasta.  

Easy, Classic Spaghetti Sauce

  • 1 lbs spaghetti, cooked according to package directions (use gluten free pasta to make recipe gluten free)
  • 1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 C chopped onion
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • fat pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
  • pinch of sugar
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 T fresh basil, chiffonade
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

While waiting for your pasta water to boil, heat a a big splash (a couple of tablespoons) of olive oil in a medium sauce pan over medium heat.  Add the onion, and lower the heat.  Sprinkle salt over the onions to keep them from sticking to the pan.  Sweat the onion for 3-4 minutes, then add the garlic and the red pepper flakes and saute for a minute.  Be careful not to burn the garlic.  Pour in the tomato sauce, and add the oregano and the sugar.  Season with a bit of salt and pepper.  Stir to combine well.  Lower the heat to simmer the sauce while your spaghetti cooks.  Simmer, stirring occasionally.  Taste the sauce and adjust the seasonings to your favor.  When pasta is cooked al dente, drain it and place it in a serving dish.  Pour the sauce over the spaghetti and garnish with the fresh basil.

Serves 4.

 

 

Cooking for One: Cold Soba Noodles with Spicy Chili Sauce

 

Cold Soba Noodles with Spicy Chili Sauce

 

 

It’s been a little while, right?  I’ve been cooking for myself, but I haven’t had many good solo recipes.  A lot of old favorites repeated, some cold pizza here and there, making enough food to eat off of for a couple of days– all of sudden, three months pass.  Then, a night comes where I get too wrapped up in American Idol to eat, and I’m desperate for something when it’s too late to call for takeout.  My pantry is down to nothing with the upcoming move, but there are a few staples still lurking.

I’ve had a love affair going with Sriracha Chili Sauce for three or four years now.  I first spied it when a Doc Chey’s Noodle House opened downtown in Athens.  It was red, it was chili, it was there.  I doused my peanut noodle salad with it, and it now has Most Favored Condiment status.  It’s available in most grocery stores, and definitely at Asian grocers.  It’s warm but not too hot, and it has great flavor.  As you eat it, you  begin to feel a warm, tingling feeling on your lips.  This happy tingly feeling then spreads to the sides of your tongue.  After the flames dance there a bit, a general light heat will trickle down your throat.  None of this is particularly overpowering, but it’s still a very physical heat, with lots of fruity chili overtones.

A great way to enjoy this particular delight is in sauce for cold soba noodles.  The cool noodles play off the heat beautifully, and it’s a great way to spice up the often salty treat.  This is one of those great, easy recipes that comes together in the time it takes to cook the noodles.  A key step in the recipe is rinsing the cooked noodles well.  Not only does this cool them off, but it removes much of the starch from the noodles.  Soba are very starchy, and rinsing changes the flavor profile of the noodles considerably.

 

cooking for one

 

 

Cold Soba Noodles with Spicy Chili Sauce

  • 4 oz soba noodles
  • 4 T soy sauce
  • 4 T toasted sesame seeds
  • 2 tsp sriracha chili sauce
  • 2 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 T rice vinegar
  • 1 T honey
  • juice of half a lime
  • 3 scallions, sliced thin
  • handful of cilantro leaves

Cook the soba noodles according to package directions.  If there’s salt in ingredient list for the noodles, don’t add it to the water.  The noodle and the sauce will be salty enough!  In your serving bowl, whisk together all the ingredients except for the scallions and the cilantro.  When the sauce is well combined, stir in the scallions and the cilantro.  When the soba are cooked, rinse thoroughly under cold water.  Make sure the soba are fully rinsed and cooled.  Toss the soba with the sauce and serve, garnished with lime slice and cilantro leaves.  Drizzle more sriracha sauce over the noodles if you want a spicier dish.

Serves 1, but with enough sauce to cover 2 servings if desired.

Blood Orange and Fennel Salad

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If you’re following me on Twitter, you might have seen my ecstatic post about finding blood oranges.  Here in Athens, finding common delicacies like Meyer lemons and blood oranges are rare occasions indeed.  I’ve seen Meyer lemons once, a year ago, and I’ve stumbled upon blood oranges two or three times.  This, all in course of ten years of residency. I actually think the Meyer lemons were an accident.  But, oh, Kroger!  They had scads and scads of Moro blood oranges, blushing and beckoning to me from no less than three different displays.  I saw them almost immediately, and I filled a sack with them.  This was supposed to be a routine trip; I needed only some butter, eggs, and confectioner’s sugar to round out my cake-making supplies.  But, the blood oranges demanded to be bought, and I picked up some fennel to go along with them.  I figured that my pantry could work something out to leverage the deliciousness of these ingredients pretty easily.

I was right.

After gorging ourselves on cake all Sunday afternoon, we really didn’t want much of a dinner.  So, I went to the remaining blood oranges – a couple having been eaten out of hand – and put together this salad.  The fruit was delicious.  The simple dressing and the bit of salt draws the juice from them, maximizing every bit of flavor this fruit has to offer.  The oranges were delightful, aromatic, and gorgeously berry-ish.  This salad is a great way to feature the fruit and enjoy a tasty seasonal fruit.

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Blood Orange and Fennel Salad

  • 2 bulbs fennel
  • 6 blood oranges
  • 1 T basil
  • 2 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 T red wine vinegar
  • 1 T pine nuts, toasted
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Trim the fennel of fronds.  Cut off the root end and core the bulbs.  Using a mandoline or a very sharp knife, shave the fennel into thin strips.  Place the fennel in a bed on a serving plate.  Next, slice all the peel and bitter pith away from the oranges.  Cut the peeled oranges into slices about 1/4″ thicks.  Layer the oranges in slightly overlapping rows over the fennel.  Tear the basil into small pieces and strew across the top.  Drizzle the olive oil and vinegar over the entire salad and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Let this rest while you toast the pine nuts.  Just before serving, scatter the pine nuts over the salad.

Serves 4-6.