Monday, December 29, 2008

Okra/Lady Finger/Bhindi Fry: A great accompanyment to any meal

This is so easy. All you have to do is wash your okra, let it dry well, and then cut it into little nickel sized slices. Chop chop chop! This is the most time consuming part. Then you fry it on high heat until it is crispy and a little browned. Set the fried bhindi on a paper towel to remove excess oil. Then you have a snack, side dish, or garnish. You can keep these fried okra chips in an air tight container, unrefridgerated, for up to a week. When you are ready to serve them, season with salt, chaat masala, and a dash of lemon juice. The okra becomes a chutney type side dish with any meal. You can also garnish daal with it, or just eat it with a spoon as a snack!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Desi style Daikon Radish Cooked in its own leaves (Mooli ki sabzi)

Daikon Radish is known as mooli in Hindi and Urdu. Mooli is available year round, but its taste is best in the winter when it is less bitter and almost sweet. It is an integral part of the "Punjabi salaad," which is a simply a plate set with an assortment of raw chopped vegetables such as carrots, tomatoes, onions, mooli, cucumber, beetroot, romaine lettuce leaves, lemon wedges, and/or whatever else suits your fancy. It can be left plain, or garnished with lemon juice, salt, black pepper, and chaat masala. Mooli is also used in pickle making. But mooli is not just an accompanyment to a meal. It can be a meal itself. Here is a recipe for mooli cooked in its own leaves, mooli ke patte or mooli saag. You know saag paneer? Saag means greens, paneer is cheese. Saag comes in many varieties, paalak (spinach), sarson (mustard), and so forth. You can use the recipe below for any saag, actually. Instead of radish, with paalak you could add potatoes or paneer, or even pre-browned pieces of meat for paalak chicken or gosht. If you decide to use meat, stir in 1 tsp garam masala at the end of preparation of the dish. With a vegetarian dish, you could optionally add yoghurt, milk, or cream to achieve a restaurant style creamy effect. Another variation is to puree the greens in the blender. So many options with such a simple and delicious family of vegetable, leafy greens!

First, you should peel your daikon radish with a potato peeler. Slice it into circles about as thick as two quarters stacked together. If you have a particularly fat radish, you can cut the larger slices into semi-circles. Set these aside. No chop your radish leaves, stems and all, into fine shreds. I prefer to chop, then wash. Wash your leaves really really well, because you don't want to end up with a gritty texture to your dish from leftover dirt and sand. Set your washed radish and leaves aside, but still dripping wet from the wash. This will provide the moisture for steaming them during the cooking process.
one radish and two bunches chopped radish leaves, all prepared as described above
2 tbs oil
1 tsp whole cumin seeds
1 small onion finely chopped
1 heaping tsp garlic paste
1 tsp ginger paste
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp red chili powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp coriander powder
1 tomato, chopped (skin if you like, but I am not that fussy)
salt to taste
fresh cilantro chopped
fresh green chilies chopped
1 tbs butter
Your pot must have a lid. Heat oil in pot. Add in cumin seeds and onions. Let onions cook until translucent. Add in your ginger/garlic and allow to brown, then stir in powdered spices and allow to sizzle. Quickly add tomatoes and stir until they melt down. Now add in ALL of your greens and radish slices, and cover the pot. Don't worry, the moisture on the greens will prevent the masala from burning. Keep the lid on for a minute, then lift the lid. The greens will have melted down. Mix well with the masala. Now that you can see the amount of finished post-melted greens you have, you can add salt to taste. Add a tiny bit of water if it looks dry. Allow to bubble up on high heat, then cover and turn the heat on low. Cook covered for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally until the greens and radish are done. Turn off the heat. Stir in the butter, cilantro, and fresh chilies. Serve with flat bread or rice!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Baingan Bharta

For this, you need to roast two large sized eggplants. You can do this by putting them in the oven on highest heat wrapped in foil for about 45 minutes. You can also paint them with oil, and roast them over a gas stove flame, turning them as they blacken. Once they seem mushy, allow them to cool, peel them, and set aside the flesh. A little bit of charred skin adds a nice smoky flavor note in this dish, so don't worry if there is some skin mixed with the flesh. Also, save the stems as a garnish, and also to suck on for the lucky people who get them.

Two large eggplants, cooked as instructed above.
2 medium onions, chopped finely
3 tomatoes, chopped into small chunks
1 heaping tsp crushed garlic
1 tsp crushed ginger
1 tsp whole cumin seeds
1/2 tsp red chile powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp garam masala powder
handful of fresh cilantro, chopped finely
2-3 green chilies, chopped roughly
3 tbs oil
salt to taste
While your eggplants are cooking, make a Masala Melt (see post below). Start by frying in oil the cumin seeds and chopped onions on high heat, then turn down the heat and cook until they are nicely sauteed and clear. Add in the ginger and garlic, allow to cook through, then turn up the flame and add the red chile powder, ground cumin, and ground coriander. Once the spices sizzle, toss in the tomatoes. Once the tomatoes have melted down and the oil has separated from the masala, you are done. Now mix in the eggplant flesh (stems, too). If by chance when you peeled the eggplant there were some uncooked parts deep inside, you can cook everything for a few minutes in the masala paste to cook them through. I usually add salt once I see how much eggplant flesh I have because you might have more or less depending on whether or not you had a lot of seeds in the eggplant. Some seeds are okay, but if you had a lot of seeds, you should toss that part out. Add salt now, mix well, and then mix in your green masalas (cilantro and chilies), and the garam masala. Stick the eggplant stems on top as a garnish. If you have an eggplant shaped serving dish, even cuter!

Melting the masala

Let’s look at how to make the basic tomato-onion masala that forms the flavor base of a wide range of North Indian/Southern Pakistani dishes, especially Panjabi dishes. I call this making the ‘Masala Melt.’ This is when you take wet aromatic ingredients such as onions, ginger, garlic, green chiles, and tomatoes, and you fry them for a long time until the moisture evaporates from them and the oil separates from the ingredients. Dry masalas such as whole and/or powdered spices are usually added to the Masala Melt. We don’t have anything equivalent to this in American cooking. Cooking onions this way goes far beyond our more common technique of caramelization.  But this technique is integral in producing authentic North Indian dishes. So, how do you make a Masala Melt? Start with finely chopped onions. Depending on the recipe, you may have to fry whole spices (khara or sabut masala) along with your onions. Add these to oil in a deep pot on high heat. When the onions have lost a bit of moisture, turn down the heat and saute them for a while until they are translucent, very soft, and almost falling apart, but not browning. If they are browning, you need to lower the flame. They shouldn’t start to brown too early or your onions will burn before the process is done. When the onions start to turn golden in color, you can add in your ginger, garlic, and chile pastes. Let this cook until the garlic and ginger are golden, too. By now, everything should be crispy looking and your onions should have taken on a reddish brown color. This indicates that all of the moisture has evaporated from them and they are properly fried. Now, turn up the heat and add in any powdered spices required for your recipe. Immediately after tossing in the spices, and before anything starts to burn, add in the tomatoes. The tomatoes should be chopped into fairly small chunks or roughly pureed in a food processor. You may also add salt at this point. Continue to fry the masala on high heat, stirring frequently until the tomatoes have ‘melted’ into a thick paste. The oil should rise to the top of the masala paste, and this masala paste should be slightly sticking to the pan. You now have a Masala Melt. The fried onions should have completely broken down in your Masala Melt and should no longer be visible. With some recipes, such as Rajma, Daal Makhani, Chola Masala, or some other lentil dishes, you will pour the Masala Melt into a pot of pre-cooked lentils. For some dishes, like Baingan Bharta, you will add cooked eggplant to the Masala Melt. You can also add various types of meat and use your Masala Melt as the base of a curry.