Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Black bean soup cookoff

I almost posted two recipes this weekend, a Spanish paella and a chickpea salad, but decided against it since I did not take pictures. But I think they were winners and I will revive them some other time. This weekend was quite an achievement, since we did not eat out at all, nor even get any take out. Whats more, I even took home made food when we went to see the Fall Colours. Skyline Drive is fabulous this time of the year, and not to be missed.

Fall has set in here in VA, some would even say winter (;)), and there is a nice chill in the air. So a big bowl of hot steaming soup seemed to be the call of the day. I had also finally soaked some black beans that I had bought a long time ago, and that I found hidden in some corner of my pantry. I also had a butternut squash that I had to use up. But there were varied opinions on the method to be used to make the soup. One wanted a very spicy Indian like thing and I leaned towards mexican. So I came up with this idea of having a cook off tv style - A black bean shorba versus a vegetable and black bean soup. I added some butternut squash for colour and to keep with the Fall theme. I was not sure how it would mingle with the other veggies and beans, but in the end, I think it had a pretty neutral effect. It added a touch of sweetness and did not take away from the main flavours.

I decided to use mostly Mexican kind of spices in my recipe. I started with the usual mirepoix and added green and red peppers. I used chipotles in adobo to add a smoky flavour, and boy, did it work ! You can easily get a small can of chipotles pretty cheap in Walmart in the Mexican foods aisle. I used only two, which was quite enough for me for a big pot of soup. But you can use less or more depending on your heat tolerance. I used oregano and cumin as the main flavouring in addition to the chipotles. Nowadays, I heat up some cumin seeds in the microwave or a pan so that they are smoky and just grind them on the spot using my mortar and pestle. This 'fresh grinding' process gives it tons more flavour than if you use store bought cumin or jeera powder. I decided to use the butternut squash in place of corn as a starchy component, just to try something new. I debated over using tomatos in some form, but finally left them out, just adding fresh lime juice instead for a touch of tang. I garnished this with fresh chopped cilantro and lime juice and served it with a fresh whole grain baguette. Another serving idea is to scoop some rice on top, gumbo like.

I think this recipe is completely vegan, except perhaps the touch of optional honey that I added. This is also fat free and can easily pass muster as an 'Eat to Live' recipe.

Recipe #1 - Chipotle Black Bean and Vegetable soup


2 cups black beans (soaked overnight and pressure cooked) or 2 cans
2 small onions
2 carrots
2 stalks celery
3-4 cloves garlic
1 bay leaf
1 green pepper
1 red pepper
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
juice of 1 lime, freshly squeezed
chipotles in adobo - 2 - chopped
1 cup chopped butternut squash
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp dried crushed oregano
1 tbsp cumin poweder freshly ground
4 cups water or 2 cups each water and veg stock

Chop the onion, carrot and celery in small pieces of roughly the same size. Chop the peppers into similar sized pieces and chop butternut squash into slightly larger chunks. Crush and finely chop the garlic. I prefer fresh garlic only and do not recommend the one you get in a bottle.

Add the onions to a big non stick pot and sautee them for a while. Apart from being oil free, this method will char the onions and give them a smoky flavor. If the onions start sticking, add a little water, 1/4 cup or so at a time and keep sauteing. Add the carrots and celery gradually along with the bay leaf. When these are slightly softened, add the peppers. Also add the chopped chipotles and the garlic. Sautee this mixture till the vegetables look slightly cooked. The more you cook now, the lesser time it will take later for the soup to come together. Add the butternut squash and sautee for a minute. Add the black beans now and the water. I would have liked to add some vegetable stock at this point, but i did not have any on hand, and for some reason did not feel like adding a bouillion cube. Add all the other spices - paprika, oregano and cumin at this point. Add a touch of honey - optional. Bring this to a boil. Put a lid on it and let it simmer for 15-20 mins till all the vegetables are cooked and the thickness is to your liking. Add the lime juice at the end after switching off the heat and garnish with lots of fresh coriander/cilantro.

Serve hot with bread or rice, garnished with more lime juice, cilantro and black pepper.


Now the other recipe - Black bean Shorba! I am just giving the recipe here without prolonging this post which I fear may have become too long. Who was the winner of this cookoff? Our tingling tastebuds, and our tummies, which were thorughly satisfied :)

Recipe #2 - Black bean Shorba

cumin - 1 tspn
black pepper - 2 tspn
Bay leaves - 1-2
cinnamon - 1/2 inch
cloves - 4-6 pcs
onion - 1 medium
celery - 2 stalks cut in pcs
cayenne - 1 tsp

1. Soak black beans overnight for abt 12 hrs
2. pressure cook
3. in a deep pot add 1 tbsp of white butter and heat for 2-3 min untill it melts and sizzles
4. add cumin, bay leaves, clover, and cinnamon, and saute for 3 min
5. add onion and fry untill golden
6. add celery and saute another 2 min
7. add black pepper
8. add 1 cup black beans with 1 cup of stalk from the cooker
9. add 1 cup veg broth and bring to boil
10. garnish with cilantro and serve with garlic bread.

This is my maiden entry for a blog event, sra's legume love affair - fourth helping.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Fresh Turmeric Pickle ( HaLdi cha LoNcha)

Hello readers and welcome to my first post. The first of several more to come, I hope. I gave some thought to what I wanted the first post to be. I wanted it to be ethnic and something that was not too common or well known. I also wanted something that was interesting enough to hold my readers' attention, since I am not yet one of the blogging elite :|. Something spicy and healthy that would be good for you.

I stumbled into my local Indian grocery store as I was pondering over all this, and what do I see in front of me? A huge box of FRESH turmeric ! Turmeric ( Hindi: Haldi) is a spice or condiment which is very commonly used in Indian cooking. Apart from giving curry its yellow colour, it has tons of other advantages - antiseptic, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, to name a few. It is part of the typical ingredients present in any Indian pantry's spice box, and is used in almost every dish. We all remember the turmeric paste our moms and grandmas put on our scraped bloody knees, bruises, tooths etc. I am sure a lot of you will also remember the Vicco turmeric ad explaining how 'turmeric' gave 'Banno' her creamy complexion. I fondly remember those good old college days when a primitive besan and haldi face pack was your lifesaver before any impromptu party. Enough said about all these nostalgic references.

Turmeric contains the antioxidant curcumin which has a variety of advantages. It is supposed to be very good for you and improves heart health, lipid numbers, Alzheimer's, arthritis, inflammation, various forms of cancer etc. Some good detail can be found here and here. Google will also come up with any more info needed.

The turmeric you get in the store is dried and ground to powder, but there is also a 'fresh' form which looks very much like ginger from the outside. Turmeric pickle is a popular family recipe, mostly because it is something so different and tastes great. Also, you can feel good about it since it has all the inherent medicinal properties. Some might argue that the words 'pickle' and 'healthy' do not go together, and I agree to some extent. But you can control the salt and oil added as much as you want by substituting with more lemon juice and vinegar. Also, since this is 'hot', the most a person eats at a time is maybe a tsp or less. I also make it in small batches so not much salt is needed. This is not like your ancient year long pickle in earthen jars, that had to have tons of salt to last for several years. Refrigeration also reduces the salt needed.

If you are not used to having turmeric in your food, the taste can be a bit strong and pungent at first. But I hope that you try this out and come to like it. Other uses I am working on are making some kind of chutney, and adding it fresh grated to vegetables, soups etc. to increase the nutrient value. The recipe follows -


Turmeric - 2 cups grated

2 teaspoons - mustard powder
2 teaspoons - methi (fenugreek) powder
2 tablespoons - cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon - salt or to taste
1/2 teaspoon - sugar
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup oil

Peel the turmeric with a vegetable peeler and grate it. You can also use a food processor. Heat some oil and let it cool a bit. Mix all the spice powders given above and put about 1 tablespoon of oil from above and mix it up. Do not use hot oil as it will give a bitter taste to the mustard. Mix this spice mixture with the grated turmeric, and put it in an air tight bottle or jar. Add the lemon juice and remaining oil and mix well.You can later add more oil, or more lemon juice/vinegar as
needed if you want more 'juice' to this. Let this pickle marinate for 2-3 days before serving.