Thursday, August 27, 2009

Orange Couscous Salad - for summer evenings

With the summer at its peak, its the same story almost everywhere. We want to stay away from hot and heavy stuff and just enjoy something light and refreshing. What could be more refreshing than the tart bite of something citrus? I like to use lemons, limes and oranges a lot in almost all my food, especially in a salad. Dressings made of lemon or orange are more appealing to me than heavy oil or mayo based ones. I also had a big pack of couscous from the local mediterranean shop ( which you must surely visit once if you live in the area. Although its more popular amongst the Asian population for the
halal meat that it sells, it has a small but eclectic grocery section, and also a huge section of carryout kind of food. The hummus and baba ghanjouj are great and fresh tasting, they have a variety of fatayars(pies), sweets like baklava, grape leaves et al. They carry a lot of spices and spice mixes at really economical prices. Also the couscous, bulgur, coffees, tahini etc.etc. One tasty find I have made here is a kind of pepper spread that will be on another post, since it deserves its own. We also stumbled on their stock of pita bread which is something you will not find in a super market. You have pitas in several sizes, ranging from your small one to
12 inch or 14 inch ones, white, wheat, fresh and economical.

OK, coming back to the point ( yes, there is one) after this long detour, I generally make something warm out of couscous, more like upama or pulao and also eat it hot. But keeping the minimum cooking criteria in mind, I decided to try and make a salad. With the mediterranean theme fresh in my mind, the ingredients kind of suggested themselves - cucumbers, olives, red peppers, onion, chick peas for some substance, some orange element and a simple dressing with orange juice and a touch of cumin. The recipe is as follows -

Ingredients -
1 cup dry couscous any variety

1 can chickpeas drained and rinsed, or 1 cup chickpeas boiled at home

1 cup finely chopped red onion

1 cup chopped cucumber

1/2 cup chopped spanish olives

1/2 cup chopped red pepper ( or any colour pepper)

1 cup mandarin oranges

1/2 cup chopped cilantro

1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

2-3 tbspn fresh lemon juice

1 tsp orange zest

1 tsp paprika

1 tsp cumin

salt and sugar to taste

2 tbspn pinoli or almonds ( optional)

1 tbspn olive oil (optional)

Method -
1) Boil the couscous according to package directions and set aside. This can be done in advance. Make sure the couscous is not very soggy now since the dressing will moisten it again later

2) In a large mixing bowl, combine all the vegetables - onions, cucumber, pepper, olives, mandarin oranges. Drain and rinse a can of chickpeas to make sure all the gooey liquid is gone. Add the chickpeas to the bowl.

3) Add the couscous to the bowl. Make sure its cool by now since we want the veggies to remain crispy and fresh. Adding hot or warm couscous will slightly cook the vegetables which we do not want here. Lightly mix everything once.

4) Now for the dressing. In a seperate bowl or cup, mix the fresh squeezed orange juice and fresh lemon juice. Make an effort to use fresh juices only. This will make a big difference in the taste. Add the paprika, cumin, orange zest, salt to taste, and little dash of sugar or honey to balance the sourness.

5) Add the olive oil. Use Extra virgin oil for a better flavour. Now you can use as much oil as you want here. You can keep streaming oil food tv style( no offense to any great chefs) until you get a thick emulsion, or you can just use maybe a tbspn as I do to get the flavour from the oil, but not enough to affect any other metrics. Beat together all the ingredients till they are combined together and add this to the bowl.

6) Add the dressing in two or three batches, depending on how dry or soft you like your couscous. I kept it slightly on the soggy side earlier, but it was all absorbed by the next day. I forgot to mention above -- this salad gets better over time. The flavours concentrate more and more, so remember that while adding your spices.

7) Add some of the chopped cilantro, keeping some for garnish. Now you can thoroughly mix everything together, ensuring that the dressing goes through the salad.

8) You can add a few almonds or pine nuts. I did not add them this time.

9) Refrigerate for a few hours, if you are not already salivating.

We ate this salad by itself as a meal, and ate leftovers as a filling for pitas with some lettuce and tomatoes. This was a very satisfying meal, and the taste intensified the next day. The crunch and freshness of the cucumber, the saltiness of the olives, the slight spice of the onion, and the juicy orange wedges intermingling, this orange based summer couscous salad is a perfect treat that can be made in a short time. The fresh citrus dressing gives this a clean flavour and
keeps things light.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Sweet and Sour KaDhi ( Savoury Buttermilk stew)

KaDhi is a traditional Indian dish made across various parts of India. Each region has its own way of making it - Gujarathi, Rajasthani, Punjabi, Maharashtrian - we have all had and savoured various versions. KaDHi is supposed to be the quintessential 'brahmin' dish in Maharashtra. It is supposed that those learned men of yore ate KaDhi with rice everyday, and many a brahmin kid (self included) has been at the butt of 'KaDhi' jokes. The Kadhi in Maharashtra is supposed to be of a thin and watery consistency as opposed to that in other parts such as Madhya Pradesh etc.

In our family, Kadhi is traditionally made from sour buttermilk, the one that is left over after churning butter. I remember many a lazy afternoon when a pot of kadhi would be bubbling away on a stove on rainy afternoons, inviting one and all with its typical aroma. With the times changing, I no longer heat a pot of milk everyday, so I don't skim off the cream to save it in a jar, so there is no homemade butter across the Atlantic, hence no fresh buttermilk. Not that its impossible, but with our hectic schedules, it is just something that we have stopped doing. So coming to the point, since we always have Dahi or curd available in a jar from the supermarket, this is the best go to dish you can have when you are in a hurry, too tired to cook and long for something that reminds you of home.

Every region has a peculiar recipe. The Gujarathi kadhi is usually thick and sweet. The rajasthani kadhi has a lot of unusual spices such as cloves and pepper and ber ( a kind of gooseberry). The punjabi kadhi is very spicy with almost equal amounts of dahi and besan. The version I have today is my own concoction. It takes a little bit from the different
things I like in various different recipes. The result is spicy, tangy, sweet and extremely slurrrrpy. I generally try to use the desi dahi brand you get in Indian stores since that has a sour taste. If not available, any fat free yogurt is a good option. I have found that for any super market brand, be it Dannon or Stonyfield or Kroger etc., the fat free yogurt is always more sour compared to the full fat or low fat version. I have no idea of the mechanics behind this.

The recipe is as follows -

Ingredients -

Sour Curd (plain yogurt) - 1 cup
Water - 2 cups
Besan or chick pea flour - 2 Tbsp
1 Tbsp grated ginger
1 green chilli - 3 or 4 pieces
3-4 cloves
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tsp oil or ghee
4-5 fresh curry leaves
1 Tbsp chopped cilantro or dhania
Asfoetida/turmeric - pinch for tempering
salt and sugar to taste

Method -

In a sauce pan, mix together the curd/yogurt, water and chick pea flour and whisk to form a smooth mixture. Make sure that there are no lumps. Add the grated ginger and the green chilli. Bring this mixture to a boil and then simmer for 12-15 minutes till it thickens. There should be no floury taste remaining. Add salt and sugar to taste to get the desired sweetness and desired balance of sweet and sour. This will vary according to individual tastes. In a small kadai or vessel, heat the oil or ghee ( traditional), and add cumin seeds, cloves, curry leaves, a pinch of turmeric and hing or Asfoetida. Add this to the mixture in the pan. Mix together and continue to simmer for 5 more minutes for the flavours to blend or until ready to eat.

This can be served hot with steamed rice, or just slurped away on its own. A healthy, nutritious and low cal delicacy, ready in the time your rice cooks. I hope you enjoy this simple Indian dish that is a household favourite.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Nimona - a fresh twist on Alu matar

Independence Day is here and there is a lot of green and orange around with people portraying their patriotic spirit. I decided to do my bit and try something green. I love the colour green, especially in food - yes I really like all kinds of greens like palak, methi, sarson, etc. and the other quintessential green ingrdient - Peas.

In days bygone, peas usually came out of a pod, mostly in the winter, and I had a swell time shelling the peas and eating half of them raw. There are a lot of childhood pea recipes that I will reserve for another time, but I came across this one only after transponding to the 'green peas come from a bag in the freezer' days.

Although I am calling it Alu Matar with a twist, this dish is way more exotic. You have to taste it to believe it. It is very simple in execution, and has very few ingredients. Its also great on a budget and for stretching a dime, as you can extend this dish even using very little raw material. I was first treated to this by a dear friend during the good old school days, when the purse was tight and there were always countless mouths to feed - anyone who has ever lived on or near a college campus can attest to the unpredictable number of people who always turned up for the pleasure of your company ;).

This dish is called Nimona, and is from North India - mostly Uttar Pradesh. The only time I have heard the word Nimona is when I heard my friend mention this, and make this. For us lesser mortals, it was always A's special matar dish!!
The star ingredient here is green peas and a lot of dhania or cilantro. Since Cilantro is another green I cannot have enough of, I use it abundantly. You can use as little or as much according to your taste, but I personally think that it is the combination of green peas, cilantro and Saunf ( yup, one more green) that gives this its unique flavour. Potato is added to the gravy and you can add as much as you want. This is where the crowd friendly aspect comes in. You can thin out the gravy as much as you want, and increase the bulk by adding more potatoes to feed more hungry mouths.

Note: One thing you have to be careful of is to curb all instincts to add turmeric or haldi, and also red chilli powder. This will spoil its colour.
So without further ado, and any more use of the 'g' word, here is the recipe -

3 cups frozen peas (1 small frozen bag)
1 cup tightly packed fresh cilantro
1 inch piece of ginger
3-4 garlic cloves
1/2 jalapeno or any green pepper
1 small onion
1-2 tspsns black pepper
1 tspn dhania jeera powder
2 tspns saunf( fennel seeds)
2 medium potatoes
oil, salt and sugar to taste
1 tbsp ghee optional

Grind together peas, cilantro, ginger garlic, onion, chilli and 1 tsp saunf or fennel seeds to get a thick paste. Heat 1 Tbsp oil in a wok or non stick pan and add the fennel seeds till they pop/splutter. Add the green puree to the oil and begin stirring immediately to avoid sticking. Keep stirring till the paste appears to be well cooked. Keep adding a little water to avoid sticking/burning. The water will be easily absorbed. Meanwhile peel and dice potatoes in medium pieces. Add water to the paste, enough to get the desired sauce thickness. Add more water than desired since the gravy will thicken and also the potatoes will add some thickness when cooked. Add diced potatoes. Add pepper, cumin and coriander powder ( or any masala of your choice - just a dash - not to overwhelm the natural taste of the pea/cilantro
combination), salt and a pinch of sugar. Bring to a boil and let this simmer till the potatoes are cooked. The gravy will thicken a bit by the time the potatoes cook.

You can add more or less potatoes according the number of people - or as people show up :) Add a little ghee at the end. This is totally optional, and will just give a richness to the dish.
Serve hot with rotis or steamed rice. The gravy can be thinner if serving with rice.
Leftovers are great as a sandwich spread, for wraps, or even as a pesto tossed with pasta.
And as I am sure some enterprising minds out there must be thinking, you could add Paneer or Tofu instead of the potato for a new kind of twist !