Tagged: side dish

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.

Mom-in Law’s Potatoes with Fenugreek seeds & Coconut (Methi batata)

(I’m excited to announce that aside from my own blog, I just began writing for KQED’s Bay Area Bites, a San Francisco chef and foodie blog here in the Bay area! It is a wonderful blog collective showcasing the talents of many local chefs and writers. The following is my first post there.)

The kitchen was always interesting to me as a child because it had a number of things I wasnʼt allowed to touch. My sisters didnʼt have these rules. That is because my mother didnʼt worry that they would kill themselves by trying to eat salt or spices straight out of their tins. My curiosity almost always overshadowed my caution. All that stopped the day I knocked loose a couple of my milk teeth; the day I tried to munch on methi (fenugreek) seeds.

When you look at the squat, rectangular and extremely hard seeds of fenugreek, you may wonder why anyone would take any trouble to work with it. But this unyielding spice is accompanied by a nutty, bitter and mellow flavor that could not be replicated by anything else. It loses some of its toughness when you gently fry or boil it, which also brings out its subtle flavor. The fragrance of the whole spice is a bit woody. But the wheaty, caramel colored seeds release a nutty aroma when cooked. In a spice blend, its flavors meld with the other spice to give the blend a deep bass note.

Due to the tough physical nature of the spice, it finds wide application in its ground form. But its seeds are also popular. A little goes a long way with this spice, as too much can make your meal overwhelmingly bitter. This is especially true if you are using whole seeds.

Fenugreek seeds also have medicinal qualities. As traditional remedies, concoctions of fenugreek are used as an appetite stimulator, in the curing of cough and congestion and prescribed to nursing mothers.

In India, the leaves of the fenugreek plant are used as a fragrant herb when dried and used as greens in their fresh state. The bitterness of the seed is reflected in the fresh leaves. They are very fragrant when they are dried. In the dry form, fenugreek leaves are used in curries and paired with vegetables like peas. They pair especially well with cream-based recipes. The seeds are like a more humble cousin. They too are used in different kinds of curries and in combination with various vegetables like okra and eggplant. The difference is that the seed will form the base of the recipe while the herblike leaves will be sprinkled on top of a dish towards the end of cooking.

While several dishes use fenugreek seeds, either as part of a spice mix or on its own, the seeds are the star of this recipe along with the very versatile potato. It would be hard to define the roots of this dish. It falls under some semblance of western Indian cooking, but I think the credit lies with my mother-in-law, from whom I got the recipe. Were you to try to look for a similar vegetable recipe, you would most likely end up with several using fenugreek leaves. Like most Indian dishes, this one involves a combination of a few spices but they all come together in celebration of this unassuming seed, which is often relegated to a supporting role.

Potatoes with coconut and fenugreek seeds

Click here to read the recipe

Roasted Carrots with Orange and Coriander

Summer is full of countless treasures; so many vegetables in the market, so much fruit readily available. It’s very easy to get carried away in the excesses as you scramble to sample all that is available before it’s gone for the year. And sometimes, while you hop through the tomatoes nd the sugar peas, you chance upon an old friend from a colder time, the bright orange root with cool green plume. What you’ve just rediscovered is the lovely, saffronesque carrot.

Growing up, the carrot was a vegetable often consumed raw or in sweets. My mom included it in several salads. There were also some decadent sweets made from carrots that were a pleasure to eat. Sometimes, it would be used as a filler vegetable in curries and dals, or in sambar. Carrots have a way of soaking up flavour while passing some of their own on into the dish. There are few things as delicious as a curry-soaked piece of carrot. It is, at once, understandably soft yet with a bit of surprising bite, sopped up in spicy goodness. It is incredible.

Carrots were generally a welcome vegetable among my generation in India; partly because of the popular detective Karamchand in the 80s, but mostly because with their slight sweetness which makes them an easy vegetable for kids to love. My liking of the vegetable only increased as I grew older. One of my favourite snacks still is a bit of raw shredded carrot tossed with some lemon juice and salt. But it wasn’t until I came to live here in San Francisco that I truly came to appreciate the nuanced flavour of a roasted carrot.

Indian kitchens aren’t very big on ovens. It was a rare kitchen that actually had one until very late in the last century. Some time in the 90s, my mom acquired for herself a small, counter-top version of an oven, a toaster oven if you will, which allowed us to experiment to some extent with kababs and cakes. But most of my baking and roasting began after graduate school, here in this city. Once I tasted the warm, caramelized flavour that most veggies develop after the long, hot sauna of the oven, I was hooked. It was only a matter of time before I tried it with carrots. What gave me the necessary impetus were these gorgeous, golden sunset roots that I found in the market. That, along with the inspiration that dawned upon me while thumbing through my surprisingly still-pristine copy of Cook with Jamie. (My secret? Leave the cookbook outside the kitchen and walk out to read the recipe…. I know, I need help.)

Roasted Carrots with orange and coriander
with combinations suggested in Jamie Oliver’s Cook with Jamie
Serves 2 as a side (or one for lunch if I’m one of the two)

Carrots – 4, cut into 1/2” slices
Orange – 1, zested, then juiced
Garlic – 4 cloves, smashed
Thyme – 8-10 sprigs
Ginger – 1/2 teaspoon, grated
Coriander seeds – 1 tablespoon
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil – a couple of tablespoons

– Pre-heat the oven to 350°F.
– In a bowl, toss the carrots with the orange zest, juice and olive oil. Spread in a small roasting or sheet pan.
– Bash the coriander seeds up in a mortar and pestle until it becomes a coarse powder. (You can use a spice grinder if you’re in a hurry but it’s more fun the first way!)
– Sprinkle the coriander powder on to the carrots and toss on the smashed garlic cloves.
–  Add a couple of grinds of black pepper and season with salt. Add the sprigs of thyme.
– Give the carrots a bit of a mix up, spread evenly on the pan and roast for about 45 minutes or until the carrots caramelize.

Cook’s notes:
The carrots smell heavenly as they slowly roast. They come out of the oven deliciously and deeply browned, even blackened. I like them that way. It was hard to wait until they had cooled down so I could pop one in my mouth. It may seem incongruous with the vegetable, but somehow their light, citrus flavour conveyed the promise of summer. The coriander seeds add a wonderful grassy, smoky flavour to the party, melding with the juices of the orange and carrot to form a lovely glazed coating on the carrot.  Amey popped one into his mouth and I had a hard time keeping him away from it until lunch.

A later batch of this recipe was great when eaten with some pasta. The carrots added a sweet, warm depth to the mushroom sauce and penne, creating an entirely new flavour profile. The roasting really concentrates all that is good in this vegetable. I think they would be great sprinkled on some pizza as well.

It is summer and there is some truly great produce out there. But culinary nirvana can be achieved with the easily accessible carrot even when the summer veggies are gone. One bite will transport you right back to brilliant sunshine. Plus it’s hard not feel happy when you are looking at something so remarkably sunny in appearance.

Sev Puri

Crossing continents has meant adapting to new ways. And for the most part this has been fairly painless. But sometimes I do miss the most ridiculous things. Like tea-time. Not because tea-time is ridiculous, oh no, far from it. It’s ridiculous because I wasn’t much of a tea-drinker back home and yet, I feel a twinge of nostalgia thinking of it. Or maybe that’s just that horrible cup of yoghurt that I ate for lunch today. (Raspberry yoghurt can’t be blue, I tell you!)

Food-minded as I am, I liked how the day was clearly marked into meals, breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner. Without tea-time there just seems to be too long a time between lunch and dinner. You see all kinds of food products and fast food vying to be your ‘in-between go-to food’. But then of course, they are promoting the wrong fourth meal. Tea-time is where it’s at. And the reason I was so fond of it was while everyone else savoured their tea, I loved the snacks that went along with it.

If you are thinking along the lines of delicate madeleines and cucumber sandwiches, let me stop you right there. That’s not what tea-time is about where I’m from. Bring out the Nan khatai (yummy shortbread)  and the khari biscuits (a rough kind of puff pastry biscuit that’s heaven dipped in a cup of tea) and Parle-G. Sometimes it was stuff you got in stores. Sometimes it was home-made, like this recipe I’ve mentioned before. But that’s the stuff you had on an ordinary day. When it was a special tea-time, (which in case you’re interested could be anytime between 3 and 5 in the afternoon), the day we had guests, especially a collection of her friends, tea was an absolutely special meal. Such times were also known as the days my mom lost her sense of humour.

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