Molly Wizenburg’s Soba in a Nut-Chilli sauce

I was dismayed to find autumn creep up on me rather unexpectedly this year. I kept thinking it was a while, wrapped up as I was in the corn and berries and peas, a very cozy place to be. Yet before I knew it, the days began getting shorter and shadows longer. We are already in mid-September and the good strawberries are all gone. Everywhere I turn I see the pumpkins that are being shoved on to me by eager retailers. The more I want to tuck the advent of Halloween to the farthest corners of my mind, the more I see it everywhere. The slow creeping in of the Bay area Indian summer has only just begun. While I will enjoy the sunshine, I know I’ll hate the heat, thanks to the unwelcome consensus some older folk had of not adding air-conditioning to apartments in the Northwest. Bidding goodbye to favourite foods, incumbent sleepless nights in stifling heat, all these simultaneous realizations just brought me down. Marvin, he of the paranoid android fame, has nothing on me. Such depth of depression can only be fought by deep seas of comfort. The kind that only a generous helping of comforting carbs can provide. Enter the versatile noodle.

I am, and always will be, a sucker for noodles, from any and all cultures. Slurpilicious egg noodles, feathery angel hair or rice noodles, crackling vermicelli, rich ramen; they all weave a spell on me. One glimpse of a plate or bowl of their enriched goodness and I’m lost in their uniform strands. Noodles lured me into the world of Chinese cuisine and I’ve never turned back since. I moved on to happily discover that most cultures had their own brand of noodles. But be they made of flour and egg, or rice, or wheat, I unequivocally love them all. There is something soothing, calming even, about a mouthful of pasta sopped in sauce, or a satisfying ritual of slurping up a bowl of Chinese noodles or Italian spaghetti. As a child, I remember masala Maggi noodles being my answer every time mom said she wasn’t sure what to cook for dinner. I would inhale a packet as a post-school snack with equal unbridled joy. Some of my most favourite memories involve rainy days and Maggi noodles. These were days when you went to school in the pouring rain, doing your damnedest to avoid getting splashed by cars. You sat through lessons, flinching at the lightning and jumping at the inevitable crack of thunder that followed, all the while just wishing you’d never left home. (Some part of your brain also marvelled at the repeated proof that light travels faster than sound…yours didn’t? Well, just nerdy ol’ me then!) Then at four in the afternoon you trudged through the now-pool-like puddles back home, too tired to avoid getting splashed this time. But then you arrived home and were lucky to have your mum there, with dry towels and something hot to eat. But if you were luckier still, she was out running an errand. Because then you got to make your own snack.

If she was out, there was hot milk in warming mugs, a pot of water on the stove and a note saying you could make a snack for yourself, with heaping warnings to b-e-v-e-r-y-c-a-r-e-f-u-l with fire. You peeled out of wet clothes into something warm & dry, made sure the kid sister had done the same and was staying out of trouble, (a minor feat since she made up for my lack of trouble by being twice as troublesome; who says there isn’t balance in the world?) watching cartoons with her mug of Bournvita. Then, you headed to the kitchen. There, with mom not hovering over your shoulder, you could decide whether your noodles were going to have peas or tomatoes or carrots or soy, and there were no arguments over having them plain if you so wished. After (carefully) prepping the veggies, you (carefully! since you were very obedient and responsible) boiled the water, cracked the two-minute noodles and shook the tastemaker into the water, added the extras and waited the eight to ten minutes it took for all of it to actually come together. Then you carefully ladled the noodles into two plates, slathered your own with tomato-chilli sauce (because really what doesn’t taste better with it? It’s like bacon for vegetarians) and put some ketchup on your sister’s since she wasn’t addicted to chilli like weirdo you. You called her for her plate and then made your way to the other room where it was quiet, the only sound being the pitter-patter of the rain. You grabbed a favourite Enid Blyton or Nancy Drew and sat on the sofa, slurping down the barely steaming noodles, chasing around the peas with your fork absorbed in your book in this heaven of warmth and security. The rain cocooned everything and was, quite suddenly now, more friend than antagonist, at least until you had to go to school again the next day. Those days seem so far away now and though my repertoire of noodle preparation has certainly expanded, the feeling that eating it brings is almost still quite the same. The early love of ramen has also filled me with curiosity to try all kinds of noodles. To battle the fall blues, I decided to try to rekindle a good mood with soba.

I’d bought a packet of soba, wanting to try out a recipe I’d read on Orangette, the kind that you just know will be fabulous when you read about it. The fact that I’d never eaten soba didn’t faze me one bit. I’ve never met a noodle I didn’t like. Soba are Japanese style thin noodles served warm in broth or cold with some dipping sauce. They taste a bit nutty with a nice bite. I had also bought this jar of sunflower seed butter to try. This is much more fluid than peanut butter at room temperature so I thought of using it in this recipe since it seemed well on its way to make a good sauce already. It has a milder flavour in comparison to peanut butter which worked really well as a sauce base. The old habit of chucking vegetables at my noodles also kicks in automatically and before I knew it I had chopped some of what I had at home, the last of some asparagus, a celery stalk or two and some scallions. The heat of the chilli combined with the nutty sunflower butter provided the lifting of spirits that I was looking for. I now have a new recipe added to my list of comfort foods.

Soba in a Nut-Chilli sauce
Adapted from Orangette
Serves 2-3

Soba noodles – 1/2 to 3/4 pound
Sunflower seed butter – 1/2 cup
Lemon – 1, zest and juice
Indian Chilli Sauce – 2 tbsp (alternatively use Sriracha or Sambal Olek – 1 tbsp)
Mayonnaise – 3 tsp

Hoisin – 1/2 tsp (optional)
Soy sauce – 2 tsp
Garlic – 3 cloves, finely minced
Ginger – 1/2”, cut into fine matchsticks
Celery – 2 stalks, diced small
Asparagus – 3 stalks, chopped small
Scallions – 2-3, chopped small
Sesame seeds – 1-1/2 tsp
Dark Sesame oil – 1/2 to 1 tbsp
Salt, if needed
Coriander for garnish

– To a saucepan on medium heat, add the sesame oil. Toss in the ginger and garlic and saute for a minute or so.
– Add the scallions, asparagus & celery and saute (until the asparagus is cooked, about 5 to 7 minutes if the asparagus is small). Move the veggies off the heat.
– Toast the sesame seeds and place aside.
– In a large bowl, prepare the sauce by combining the sunflower seed butter, chilli sauce, soy sauce, mayonnaise, hoisin, lemon zest and lemon juice. Stir to mix.
– Bring a large pot of water to boil. Then add the soba noodle bunches and turn the heat down to a simmer. Gently boil the noodles for about three minutes. Then drain the noodles in a colander and give them a quick wash under cold running water to remove excess starch off the strands, gently separating the strands.
– Place portions of  the noodles into the large bowl containing the sauce and gently toss to coat all the noodles with the sauce, adding more and incorporating until you have the right sauce-to-noodle proportions to your liking. Sprinkle over the sesame seeds.

Heap generous amounts into bowls and garnish with coriander (cilantro) to serve.

Cook’s notes:
The soba is delicious, a bit chewy than most noodles, similar (though bit more al dente) to whole wheat spaghetti. Giving it that quick gentle wash in cold water makes the noodles barely warm when you toss them in the sauce. The nuttiness of the sunflower seed butter gathers a little sweetness from the mayo and hoisin, tartness from the lemon juice and combines with the chilli sauce to form a luscious sweet-and-sour sauce with a passive heat that you just feel at the back of your throat. This is a truly customizable recipe so by all means, feel free to throw in your own substitutions. I think some sort of nut butter and the lemon juice is key here. The rest of the ingredients could change around in quantity and inclusion (even without the hoisin and mayo for example, this is a marvellous sauce.) Molly of Orangette worried about over dressing the noodles. Amey and I could have happily gobbled up more sauce, so I guess this point is entirely dependant on your own tastes. The crunch of sesame seed was too subtle a contrast in texture for me. The next time I intend to add crushed peanuts. Also, I’ll add some carrots, they will really go well with this sauce.

I love developing on my childhood taste of food, it changes but never quite entirely. The chilli in the sauce kept me from putting in tomato-chilli sauce this time, but only just. Reminiscing like this also sometimes makes me wish I’d had a more fun with the food making times, like setting my Mom’s kitchen calendar on fire. But then maybe she wouldn’t have let me into the kitchen after that! My reminisces also get me thinking about you, dear reader. What are some of your favourite childhood food memories?

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Tyler Florence’s Herbed Focaccia with caramelized onions and goat cheese

Baking was something I didn’t really get to think about when I was younger. Bread was something you got pre-sliced from the market or from the pav walla (travelling bread seller) who made his rounds on on his bicycle in the mornings; cake was best left in the hands of the experts. Sure I’d been making making the dough for chapatis (a staple Indian flat bread) since in my teens. And there were the rare puris and parathas, but that was it really. Then I came to this country; kitchens here came equipped complete with oven, and people around me discoursed on bread baking and the wonder of warm loaves coming out of the kitchen as part of normal routine. Friends in grad school baked as means of stress relief and down in Texas, everyone knew how to bake their own biscuits and pies. It made me feel like a bit like I did on the first day of architecture school, lost and completely out of my element. Sure, I could wield a frying pan with the best of them but I had less of an idea what to do with a loaf tin. Antithetical ideas like sweet potato pie made my mind spin (a sweet vegetable pie? really?)… And biscuits, why on earth would someone call those heavenly savoury light bread-like creations biscuits? Biscuits come out of a tin or packets of butter paper and are sweet! It was a whole new world!

I was extremely ambivalent about trying all this on my own. First, it sounded a bit tedious and very easy to mess up (working the flour just right, bread dough different from pastry dough, all the mixing and measuring, cold butter, warm water…argh!); secondly, I was really not looking to make cooking more pulled out than I make it. I’m not one of those people who finds cooking therapeutic and relaxing. I’m downright nasty in the kitchen if you try to interfere with my weird work method. Cooking to me is adventurous and exciting; there is wonder in seeing things come together. But adventure and relaxation do not mix. A picnic in the park, it is not. So more years went by, with me standing in the sidelines as far as baking was concerned, cheering away at the accomplishments of others but very undecided about trying it for myself. I predicted disaster and so kept putting it off for other things I knew I could attempt successfully. My sister though, urged me to give it a shot. “Start with something simple…” she said, “like a box cake from the supermarket.” I decided it couldn’t hurt to try. If I messed it up, I’d chalk it up to experience. Good thing too, because the experience went very well. Those Betty Crocker boxes are genius, even belligerent cavemen could turn out cakes like cordon bleu chefs. There was warm comfort in a pan with that cake. Even though all I did was add some oil and eggs to it, there was a feeling of serious accomplishment when I pulled the fluffy chocolate cake out of that oven. It was the kind of euphoric feeling I’ll never forget, the nudge I needed to dive headlong into this well-heated world. I grew from strength to strength; mixing and stirring and ladling things like a happy little baker. There were cakes and brownies and cookies, even pies. There were some misses but also there were hits, hits that roared up the charts. (My favourite compliment was relayed to me by my elder sister a year ago. She told me my nephew refuses to eat commercial apple pie, claiming the only one he liked was the one his aunt made…er..that’s me…my nephew likes my apple pie best, isn’t he the sweetest little munchkin?? Wait, don’t tell him I said that. He’s fifteen now, he won’t like being called the sweetest little munchkin, w-ell, at least he’ll never acknowledge it.)

The one thing I still felt unsure around, was bread. All the talk of ‘starters’ and feeding the starter and being concerned about its well-being and mucking about with yeast; yeah, all that  just seemed like too much work. But you have to try something before you knock it. I was nervous about trying this culinary adventure without some guidance from experience. So many questions! So I signed up for a bread making class at the Tante Marie Cooking school in San Francisco, a school, I discovered, that I had lived nary a block from, without knowing it for almost five years! (Such is life no?) The instructor for the day’s class was a wonderful chef called Jim Dodge, who made the class fun and educational. He taught us about starters and blooming yeast and different kinds of bread. More importantly to me, he painstakingly worked with me to break my set-in-concrete habit of kneading dough into tomorrow, like I would for chapatis. Chapati dough can take a lot of beating ..er..kneading. Bread dough, I learned, is more gently kneaded and sort of shaped at the same time, with not as much heavy pressure as I’m used to wielding. Ok, no pressure at all really, you do as little kneading as possible after the dough has come together. We also learned the importance of letting the dough rest and rise, scoring the loaf (to give the bread some expansion paths so it doesn’t crack elsewhere) and the lovely hollow thunk it produces when it is perfectly baked and you knock on it. All this was in the wonderful home and garden of the lovely Tante Marie herself, Mary Risley. I made some lovely new friends and was richer in not only in experience, but in sourdough starter from Jim Dodge’s mother lode, several recipes and two of the loveliest loaves of sourdough bread you ever saw. My very own, very first, baked breads. Warm and crackly and smelling of herbs and heaven!

Still I was right about the amount of work. I forgot all about feeding my starter and it died a tragic death alarmingly soon. I have no stand mixer and realised I was very tense about working the dough entirely by hand once I was on my own. The recipes I’d so happily acquired sat forlornly on my kitchen counter, with me still a bit nervous about trying them out. A few weeks ago though, Amey gave me a good talking to. What is the point of taking a class and not even trying to do it on my own? My pointing out lack of kitchen equipment didn’t work either. I was sternly reminded that man didn’t come out of the primordial soup armed with stand mixers, and that bread had been around almost since then. Finding myself unable to argue with that bit of logic, I turned to my trusted cookbooks for an easy recipe I could try without fear of assured disaster.  And there it was, tucked away in Tyler Florence’s beauty of a book, this recipe for focaccia. What immediately appealed to me was the complete absence of a starter. Several authors assure you that bakers are happy to hand you some of theirs. I was in no mood to test out this theory. And then, there is the fact that this is focaccia. It is my favourite kind of bread. I love the soft yielding bite and slightly dense texture of this bread. The recipe seemed pretty doable, armed with my fairly new knowledge of bread as I was. I’m glad I tried it. This one’s a hit that will stay on the charts a lo-ong time.

Herbed Focaccia with Caramelized Onion & Goat Cheese
Adapted from Tyler Florence’s Stirring the Pot
Makes 8 slices/servings

For the dough:
Unbleached all-purpose flour – 3 1/2 cups
Dry active yeast – 2 tsp
Honey – 2 tsp
Salt- 1 tsp
Fresh thyme leaves – 1 tsp
Dried oregano – 1 tsp
Ancho chilli powder – 1 tsp
Olive Oil – 1 tbsp
Warm water – 1 cup

For the topping:
Red onions – 4, medium, cut into slivers
Goat cheese – about 2 oz
Parmesan cheese – 2 to 3 tbsp, shredded
Balsamic vinegar – a turn of the pan
Olive oil – 2 tbsp
Salt and pepper to taste

– Dissolve the honey in the warm water, then gently stir in the yeast. Place aside for 5 to 10 minutes. If the yeast are active, there will be some foam on the surface of the water.
– Sift the flour and salt into a bowl. Add the thyme leaves, dried oregano and ancho chilli powder.
– Slowly add in the warm water with yeast, stirring to combine together. When all the water has been incorporated, knead the mixture into a sticky dough.
– On the counter or on a base, sprinkle some flour. Pat the dough onto the surface and knead well, until the stickiness of the dough reduces considerably. Knead the dough for a bit until smoothish to the touch. Then add a tablespoon of oil and finish kneading the dough to develop a smooth surface. Punch the dough to flatten a bit, then fold it onto itself loosely.
– Place the dough in a bowl. Cover with a towel and keep in a warm place for about an hour for the dough to rise.
– Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a large pan on medium heat. Toss in the slivers of onion and toss to coat.
– Season well with salt and pepper. Mix well and then let the onions caramelize to a rusty gold, then to a deep purple. This should take about 30 minutes. About 10 minutes before they are done, pour in the balsamic vinegar and toss with the onions to coat.
– Check the dough at about an hour. It should be considerably larger, about twice its original size.
– Layer some parchment paper onto a baking sheet and rub it with some olive oil. Put the dough out on the pan and push it out to the edges with your fingers to flatten it out onto the pan, about 1/2” or so thick. Dimple the surface of the dough gently with your fingers.
– Cover the flattened dough with plastic wrap, then the towel and set aside for 15 minutes.
– Set the oven to heat at 400°F.
– Uncover the dough. Spread out the caramelized onions out to cover the surface of the dough. Crumble the goat cheese over the onions. Sprinkle the parmesan cheese over the entire surface.
– Place into the heated oven and bake for about 15 to 20 minutes, until the bread goes golden brown.

Serve by itself or with a side salad.

Cook’s notes:-
This is the kind of bread recipe that is totally geared towards the novice bread baker. Even though I’d done something this once under supervision before, I believe someone who doesn’t know the first thing about bread baking can do it, as long as they have the initiative and some amount of patience. I switched out the sugar for some honey and messed around with herbs and ancho chilli powder, but it all really worked in the recipe. The house smelled warm and inviting and I saw so many passersby glance at the building windows as I sat reading there while the bread baked. We really had a hard time waiting for this one to cool down because our senses kept demanding we try the bread right way. The bread bakes nice and golden and the entire thing is like a very thick crust pizza, totally amazing and very delicious. The cheese melted in fluffy little puddles all over the burgundy onion and was a wonderful tart counterbalance to the sweetness of the onions. There was just a bit of heat in the dough from the chilli powder, which worked very well with the key flavours of cheese and onion.

The texture of the bread is dense and yielding. My technique, or lack thereof, didn’t seem to have mattered one way or another, since whatever I did seemed to have worked. This is the kind of recipe you work at as you sort through other stuff on the weekend, cleaning out a closet, doing laundry or some such thing. As you get done with your task, the bread comes out of the oven and a meal is ready. Watch out for burns as people try to grab pieces before the bread has time to cool. If you manage to get slices on to a plate, this would go really well with a leafy salad, maybe with some walnuts (which I think might work really well sprinkled on the bread too). It does quite well by itself too though, it is quite filling. This would make excellent picnic fare. We ate it standing in the kitchen over the baking sheet, dropping crumbs everywhere. Not one piece made it anywhere near a plate!

Unlike me, give this one a try sooner rather than later. You will be mighty pleased with the results. With the advent of autumn, your kitchen will appreciate the warmth as well. I was glad the bread baking experience was a successful one. At a point in the process, when the bread was in the oven and the aroma enveloped me like a hug from my mum, I took a deep breath, sighed and realised that cooking can be, well and truly, comforting. That is even better than it being relaxing.

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Vegetable Clear Soup

Labor day weekend is almost done as I write this. Can’t say it was one of the best ones. Friday night saw us spend a lovely evening with friends, but after that it all went downhill. I haven’t been in this much trouble with the gods of sniffles in years. The weather in the city has been yoyo-ing between searing hot days and cold nights and while the week was tough, I succumbed to it, good and proper this weekend. Between the sniffing and the sneezing, it was hard to find the inclination to cook or eat these past three days. Mostly I just spent the days on the couch, swathed in tissue and reading my collection of Jane Austen. There is something curiously bracing about reading of long rambling walks among the countryside, of solitary thought and of a simpler time (though not so much to the people that lived in it, I imagine). But it might have not been the best thing to read at this time. My impatience for the protagonists of the novel to get their act together and move along only aggravated my already low spirits. This is not how a long weekend should be for anyone. Thankfully though, the one bright spot, there was soup.

It may seem incongruous to speak of hot weather and soup in the same sentence, but in my life there is never a wrong time for soup. Especially when it this simple, soul-cheering fair, packed chock-full of immunity boosting vegetables. There are various claims it makes of being a clear soup, though I’m not quite sure this falls in that category. In my head the words clair zoop are always pronounced in the nasal tones of a French maitre d’ out of a 60’s movie…but I digress. I don’t think it is a clear soup because I can’t see through it. But then whoever said that I definitively know what a clear soup is? Certainly not me.

This is a vegetable broth-based soup, with celery and carrots and cabbage among other things. On account of the soy sauce and the vinegar in it, it has been christened a Chinese clear soup by Amey’s family. It would certainly not be out of place served as a precursor to a Chinese meal, the flavours here are pretty consistent with that cuisine. However, the umami of the soy and clear tang of vinegar combine with the mingled flavour of various vegetables to make this a soup that can hold body and soul together very well indeed. In my case it was the beginning and end of several of my weekend meals. I kept asking Amey to make fresh batches of it. For some reason, in an allergy fogged world, these flavours were the only ones that didn’t taste like cardboard. And as far as its health benefits, my mom would approve. Especially since she wasn’t here to fuss over her sick child. I miss her terribly when I’m sick. But Amey and his soup were wonderful at taking care of me too.


Vegetable clear soup

Makes 4 to 6 servings

(All the vegetables below to be chopped into similar bite-sized pieces)

Capsicum or green pepper – 1 , cored and diced
Celery – 2 stalks, diced
Carrots – 2, diced
Cauliflower – 1/2, broken into florets and chopped
Green Beans – 1 cup, chopped
Cabbage – 1/2, diced
Scallions – 1 bunch, chopped
Broccoli – 1 cup florets, chopped
Vegetable Stock – 3 to 4 cups
Vinegar – 1/4 cup
Canola Oil – 2 tbsps
Sesame Oil – 1/2 tsp
Soy Sauce – 2 tbsp
Corn Flour – 1/2 tbsp
Ajinomoto – a pinch (optional)
Salt to taste

– Parboil the vegetables.
– Heat the canola oil in a large pot. Saute parboiled vegetables for a few minutes.
– Add sesame oil, salt, soy sauce and ajinomoto if using. Saute for a few more minutes.
– Add vinegar and the vegetable stock and heat.
– Combine the corn flour and a little of the warm stock from the pot to make a light paste in a small bowl. Add this to the soup pot and mix well. Cover and bring the soup to a boil.
– Lower heat and simmer the soup until vegetables are cooked.

Serve with chilli vinegar and maybe cilantro for garnish.

 

Cook’s notes:
Quite frankly, regardless of the ingredients list,  this is a clear-out-your-fridge kind of soup, which means that practically any kind of vegetable would work fine in here. I’m a strong supporter of carrots in this soup. They add a lovely counter-balance to the vinegar and soy sauce. The sauce I speak of here is the Indian soy sauce variety. Remember to watch the salt if you use the American supermarket kind. They are certainly saltier. The ajinomoto here is optional. (I know this is a touchy subject with tons of discourse on it. I read this article on it recently. By all means, do not use it if you don’t want to.)
Very often, we will also boil some noodles and add them to this, making it a sort of all-in-one meal, a noodle-in-vegetable soup delight. If you do this make sure you start the noodles in separate boiling water but drain them and stir them in with this soup to let them finish cooking. They will absorb the flavoured broth and take on a light brown sheen that will complement the flavour and colour of the soup (which by the way, will be the colour of dark root beer). If it is all just too much vegetable for you, add any bits of cooked meat you may have on hand. Chicken would work particularly well. Keep the pieces small and consistent with the rest of it and they will work just fine.This is a lovely soup for fall, when the weather turns cooler. In my case, I’m always happy to have it on my plate, rain, shine or sniffles.

Buttermilk (Takachi) Kadhi

You know that hole-in-the-wall you love? The restaurant that’s smaller than the MUNI bustop? You know that lovely yellowed curry it serves? The one that’s smoky (or not) and tart (or sweet?), the kind you put up with sardine-can seating for, because you love it? Remember how when you’re done, your napkin, the tips of your fingers, heck, even the plate just goes completely yellow? Enough to make you nervously wonder about maladies that mess with your vision? Congratulations, you have had a swift, yet definitive introduction to turmeric. (And oh, that stuff that turned your fingers red that other time? No, that’s not chilli powder, that’s just the red food coloring additive in chilli powder. Very different. We’re talking apples and potatoes here. Even though the French call them both pommes, but I digress…)

Turmeric has been turning everything yellow for eons. This stuff was around even before the Romans decided that anyone who turned water into wine was really cramping their style. But it didn’t begin its culinary journey as anything connected with cooking. What it was used for, first and foremost, was as a dye, especially for holy robes.

Turmeric has been mentioned in the Vedas, the ancient Hindu sacred texts. It was associated with purity and cleansing. Even today, orthodox Hindu households will use turmeric water to purify everything from themselves to objects in the house and the house itself before a religious event. Along the same lines, Hindu brides and bridegrooms have a ceremony called ‘haldi’ (the Hindi word for turmeric and also the name of the ceremony), just before their wedding day.

This yellow-orange rhizome (that is a relative of ginger) is also credited with tons of medicinal uses. It is used as an antiseptic and anti-inflammatory agent. When a classmate in school cut her finger during a cooking class, a well-meaning friend promptly threw some turmeric on her finger. Good move as far as providing an antiseptic, but bad for the bleeding. As it turns out, turmeric is also an anti-coagulant. (No permanent damage done, it was a very tiny cut. Nothing that the band-aid that followed couldn’t take care of.) Studies show that curcumin, the main flavoring compound in turmeric, is also an anti-oxidant.

Turmeric imparts a rich, ochre yellow to anything it is included in. The mustard so popular on hot dogs gets its color and part of its distinctive flavor from this golden spice. Turmeric is famous for its inclusion in curry powders. Marco Polo noted the following of turmeric when he came across it in 1280 “There is also a vegetable which has all the properties of true saffron, as well the smell as the color, and yet it is not really saffron.” This isn’t entirely true. Turmeric and saffron can both turn things yellow. The similarity ends there. Saffron is fragrant and enchanting, its flavor elevated and floral. Turmeric smells a bit acrid; Its flavor is earthy, reminiscent of ginger and mustard. One should never be used in lieu of the other. The dish in question would absolutely not taste the same.

Turmeric in Indian cooking is used primarily in its dry, ground form. Small quantities are used when called for in a recipe but they are more than enough to convey the ginger-peppery flavor. In some parts of India, turmeric leaves are used to wrap dumplings before steaming. There is a milder flavor and flowery aspect associated with the leaves that is different from the stem which supplies the powdered spice.

Forming the base on which several dishes can be built, turmeric, along with asafoetida and mustard seeds, feature in countless recipes from the Indian sub-continent. Lentils, vegetables, meat and fish, all do well with a seasoning of turmeric. One of the simplest dishes featuring turmeric is also the most satisfying. Called kadhi, different regions of India have their own versions; it tends to be of a thinner consistency in the south as compared to the north of the country. It can be plain or made with chickpea dumplings (pakoras).

Buttermilk Kadhi
Serves 3-4

2 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup chickpea flour (besan)
1/3 tsp asafoetida
1/4 tsp turmeric
3-4 green chillies, split lengthwise (Serrano or Thai chillies)
1/2 tsp grated fresh ginger
1 tsp sugar
Salt to taste
Cilantro for garnish

For seasoning:
2 tbsp clarified butter (ghee) or canola oil
5-6 curry leaves
1 tsp asafoetida
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp mustard seeds

– In a pot, combine the buttermilk, chickpea flour and 2 cups of water. Stir together to dissolve any lumps.
– Add sugar, salt, turmeric and asafoetida and mix.
– Move the pot onto the stove on medium high heat and bring the mixture slowly to a boil, stirring constantly. Add more water to thin it down if the mixture is still too thick. (The ideal consistency would be like that of tomato soup).
– When the buttermilk comes to a boil, add the green chillies and ginger.
– In a separate small pan, heat the ghee or oil to prepare the seasoning. Add mustard seeds (which should begin to splutter if the oil is hot enough) followed by cumin, asafoetida and curry leaves. Continue to heat gently for a few seconds to season the oil or ghee.
– Pour the spiced oil into the buttermilk mixture. Stir everything to incorporate.

Garnish with some cilantro and serve.

Cook’s notes:
Keep stirring the mixture as it comes up to a boil to avoid any possibility of the buttermilk curdling and separating. Once it has reached a boil, the thickening of the chickpea flour keeps everything together and you needn’t worry about it anymore. Though oil can be used here, try and use ghee if you can. There is a voluptuousness of flavor that it brings to the party. Also, if using oil, make sure it is neutral tasting like canola or peanut oil. An oil like olive oil would be too strong and would disrupt the other flavors.
Though traditionally served on steamed rice, kadhi can also be served with chapatis or enjoyed just by itself. It is rare to find this dish in restaurants. This is home-cooking at its most basic. You could try variations by including some carrots or peas in it. Served with rice and an Indian spiced pickle or papad, you have a simple, nutritious meal, a tiny bit of comfort on a plate.

The Kitchn’s One-Ingredient Banana Ice Cream

We tried this recipe for an ice-cream over the weekend and I don’t think I’ve been so excited about ice-cream ever! Saying this is saying a lot, because really ice-cream lists high…high on my list of favourite foods. I have been known to plead for it at the oddest times. My poor, harried husband has been known to drive me to Swenson’s at all odd hours because of ill-timed cravings for a chocolate orange swirl. It took some time before he completely understood just how deep my love affair with this delicious frozen delight really went. He also knows he needs to move very quickly once the craving has struck. I steam-roll over anything in my way.

Even so, ice-cream and I have had a love-hate relationship. I have always loved it, it kind of hates me, I think. As a child, rarely could I get away with blatantly eating it at will. Doctors threatened tonsillectomy and my mother watched me like a hawk, but I still managed to whine and whimper until my dad gave in and bought me a cone. Flash forward to adulthood and not much has changed except that the absence of parental supervision means I can eat all the ice-cream that I want. Doctors still threaten impending doom for the tonsils, but you know what? I look forward to it. Apparently, after a tonsillectomy, you-can-have-all-the-ice-cream-you-want! Heaven, is that you??

Getting back to this recipe that has me all worked up, it is so simple, yet so amazing and delicious, the person who figured it out should be given the food Pritzker or some thing like that. It is a banana ice-cream that uses…are you ready for it?…one ingredient. And no, I don’t mean bananas and one ingredient, I mean one ingredient…period, full-stop, end of ingredient list. I read about it here for the first time, though from what I read I gather that this recipe has been around for a while.  I love bananas. I love ice-cream. How did I not know about this sooner? Then, as I read on, I got a bit skeptical. How is it possible? Ice-cream is cream, sugar and ice. How could the humble banana manage to reach the exalted heights that whipped cream and sugar can reach when iced? The symphony of that frozen music surely can’t be created merely by a fruit!

So of course, I had to try this right away. I had some bananas at home. What I read told me that it would be better if the bananas were as ripe as possible, without having gotten spoiled. So I bunged all seven bananas into a paper bag to speed up the ripening process. Come Friday they had turned into beautiful black and yellow specimen, slightly squishy. So I peeled them and tossed them into the freezer. The next morning they had frozen rock hard, at which point a few of them were placed in a blender and given a whizz. At first they just kind of sat there, sort of confused about what they were supposed to do next. But slowly, with the gentle cajoling of the ‘pulse’ button, they got with the program and began to gently whirr about the blender. A few more rounds of blending turned everything into mounds of creamy looking clouds. We stopped the blender, grabbed the jar and reached in spoons and fingers. And to quote my favourite F.R.I.E.N.D.S, oh-my-god!


The resultant whipped fruit is out of this world. I was tempted, tempted to swear there and then that I would never eat bananas any other way again (but I love banana bread entirely too much.) Something almost magical happens to the frozen bananas when they are blended. The banana ice gets air whipped into it and they turn into a wonderful creamy ice-cream like concoction with the consistency of a soft-serve. Rich and creamy, you just cannot believe all it took was a couple of bananas. We squabbled like little kids over who got to finish the first batch!

Caramel for the brittle
Caramel for the brittle

I added some powdered green cardamom and a teaspoon of vanilla essence to my second batch, just to see how it would turn out. It was like adding additional icing to a cake that was already frosted. The cardamom worked very well, the vanilla essence might have been a bit of an over-kill. We also added some caramel, hardened into lovely little golden brittle to the mix, which worked superbly. My mind is racing with ideas. There are new bananas freezing as I write this and I have big plans for this lot.Some of them are going to go in with some walnuts, another lot is going to become best friends with chocolate, a home-made chunky monkey of sorts. Maybe top it with some berries…the possibilities are endless. We’ve been wondering what else might work with this treatment, maybe mangoes…or papaya? But it would have to be good, really ripe fruit. If you’re vegan or lactose intolerant, look no further for the perfect ice-cream. This is it.

We did manage (only barely just) to save enough to fill a small box and put it in the freezer, only to see if it froze and kept as well as I had read it would. I have to say It managed fairly well. But I very much preferred the version that came out of the blender as opposed to the re-frozen one. Somehow, though the frozen version tastes pretty good, the fact you are eating only bananas becomes more obvious here. Still, at the end of it, I was never more happy to have my skepticism turned on its ear. This is a delicious and amazing one-ingredient miracle. You will love it. Your children may insist on having their bananas only this way in the summers. You have to try it to believe it.

Simplest banana ice-cream

Software required: Bananas, peeled and frozen solid
Hardware required: a blender
Introduce one to the other and watch them make sweet music!