Tagged: stovetop

Linguine with Mushrooms in a Lemon-Thyme sauce

When life tosses you lemons, what do you do? If you are anything like me, I guess you do your damnedest to lob them right back. The problem is, in this little game you have going on, life is almost always the stronger player, and it is harder to play that googly you just got tossed, especially if you weren’t expecting it. You blink and you miss, the bat kisses air, or worse, you hit the ball in a completely different direction, and not a good one. This is why you learn to make lemonade. (Not blinking would also be a good skill to learn, but “Constant vigilance!” à la Mad-eye Moody would be rather tiresome after a while.) Better to hold on to that lemon for a bit while you decide what to do with it. Lumbering about blindly never did anyone any good.

In case you are wondering, this is not how cricket is played. But we’re not talking about cricket so much as we are about lemons. In our house, we could go without milk and bread but there will always be lemons in the house…lemons and limes. My husband loves them more than he loves his guitar and his camera and that is saying something. Amey’s love of all thing sour is legendary. He adores lemons, loves limes, is enthralled by vinegars. His idea of ‘improving the flavour’ of any dish involves adding one of these ingredients. He is the only person I know whose fried rice is actually vinegar rice. If we had grown up in the United States, his favourite candy would have been Sour Patch kids, hands down, no contest.

College, while offering him several freedoms, also put in his sights, front and center, the tamarind and green mango vendor’s cart. This guy showed up with his cart, rain or shine, with kayris (green mangoes) just before summer and tamarind all year round.  While other kids were busy with restaurants, Amey snacked happily on morsels of green mango dressed in salt and chilli. The vendor knew him by name and had his order ready when he saw him coming. This guy was happily immersed in salt and sourness while the rest of the kids were flirting with alcohol.

Being married to someone who likes sour food and likes to cook comes with its challenges. He used it on everything with a heavy-handed abandon reminiscent of Paula Deen and butter. It took some time for me to convince him that not everyone thinks of lime juice as a staple. Granted his culinary quirk is way healthier than butter, but let me tell you, there is such a thing as too much acidity in your food. You will not know this until you have someone squeeze a whole lime into your plate of dal and rice…or make you a hot dog that could pass the litmus test. A chilli fiend and a lime fanatic…our early days in cooking bought some sore trials to its consumption for both of us. The years have taught us well, w-ell, maybe they have taught him better. I can still be heavy handed with the chilli. Amey, however, has honed his handling of the acid and citrus to a fine slant. Granted, he still puts too much vinegar on his rice. But now, it is his own plate of rice. He has learned that there is your own palette and that of others. More importantly, he has also found that he appreciates the subtlety of citrus as much as he enjoys the more in-your-face flavours.

One of his early experimentations was a take on a lemon cream sauce. A dish he loves to eat when we are out is the Chicken Tequila Fettucine served at California Pizza Kitchen. That pasta dish made him happy enough to try a version with cream and citrus on his own. Born out of this was a lemon-cream sauce. With some serious, careful honing, something I rarely have patience with, he has perfected the sauce. It is creamy, unctuous, just tart enough to make the presence of the lemon felt strongly but not overwhelmingly. A gentle, soothing sauce with a burst of refreshing flavour to bring sunshine to the most gloomy day.

Broken Linguine with mushrooms in a lemon, cream and thyme sauce
Serves 3-4

Garlic – 6 cloves, chopped fine
Red Onion – 1/2, diced fine OR Shallot – 2, diced fine
Thyme – 1 tbsp of leaves
Lemon zest – 1 fruit
Lemon juice – 1/2 of one fruit
Dried porcini or wild mushrooms – 1/2 cup (chanterelles would be excellent here)
Cream – 1/2 cup
Sausage (optional) – 2, diced
Cayenne pepper – 1/2 tsp
Orange Flower Honey – 1/2 tsp (use regular honey if you don’t have this)
Linguine – 3/4 box
Olive oil – 2 tbsp
Salt and pepper to taste
Parmesan for grating over

– Reconstitute the dry mushrooms in about a cup and half of boiled hot water. Set aside for about fifteen minutes until the mushrooms go soft and the water has become a rich, brown broth.
– Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Break the linguine into three pieces and throw into the pot. Boil pasta as per directions on box.
– Meanwhile, Heat the oil in a shallow pan on medium low. Add the garlic and fry until slightly brown.
– Add the onions and saute until translucent. Add the thyme.
– Roughly chop the reconstituted mushrooms and add to the pan, along with the broth. Mix to incorporate, then bring to a boil.
– Add the lemon juice and zest and cayenne pepper. Season with salt and pepper.
– Stir in the cream. Season with salt and pepper.
– Reduce heat and simmer the sauce for a bit and let reduce slightly. Add the honey and mix it in.
– Drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Add the sauce and toss together to coat the strands of pasta.

Serve with a fresh grating of Parmesan over each dish, along with some fresh ground pepper.

Cook’s notes:-
This sauce originated in a pure lemon and cream version, which made for some sticky pasta incidents. We tried variations with half-and-half, wine and vegetable and chicken broths. There was no definite depth of dimension until we started to use the mushroom broth (which, by the way, is now a favourite ingredient in our cooking). Amey balanced the flavours with some orange blossom honey which he’s partial to. Its citrus notes worked wonderfully in this sauce, making it one of the most delicious pasta sauces I’ve eaten. He’s also tried variations with other herbs. While they all work with varying degrees of success, we both agree that thyme works best, gently infusing and disappearing into the sauce more completely than anything else. Also it is great as an additional garnish.

What else you put into the pasta is entirely up to you. Shreds of roast chicken would be great, as would bacon. Leave the meat out completely and you have a vegetarian version. Strips of sautéed peppers, steamed asparagus or artichoke hearts would be brilliant with this sauce. I love to put sun-dried bits of tomato on mine. This is the sauce I will ask for more often than others when Amey decides to make pasta. To him, it is also an appreciation of how he and his tastebuds have evolved.

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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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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.

Vegetable-and-sausage Paella

We went to LA for a three day holiday recently. Most people would be incredulous that LA is my idea of a holiday. But it is. I’m a city girl. I grew up in the midst of a thriving metropolis and feel most at home and at peace with myself when I’m around the cacophony of traffic and the hustle-n-bustle of a city. Not necessarily in the middle of it, but around it. In its absence, I feel like something is strongly missing from my life. It’s the same feeling I get when I can’t see the ocean too much, or smell the salty spray, only this is more intense. The two years I lived outside of an urban environment had me climbing walls. If I ever have to move out of the city, I would need to return to it often, every other day, like a swimmer surfacing for air.

LA delivers the big city like no other on the West Coast. Of course, San Francisco is prettier in its setting, but it is smaller, very definite. Step out of it and you know you’re out. LA feels like it has no boundaries, one big gritty and interesting melting pot of city and ‘burbs. This time I got to visit places that I haven’t been to before, like the Getty Center and the Griffith Observatory, both of which offer wonderful vantage points to the sprawling behemoth that is Los Angeles. If you haven’t been to LA, put both these destinations on your itinerary when you visit. The Getty Center has beautiful views and even better architecture, with beautiful courts and iridescent buildings dressed in travertine. The combined wallop of the art and architecture raised my spirits. This place radiates a contagious vitality. We had a mixture of lunch and dinner in a lovely little Mexican taqueria that served the best salsa I’ve eaten anywhere, that topped these delicious chicken tacos cooked in a fantastic peppery sauce. LA really has great Mexican food.


The observatory is a study in contrasts. This almost octogenarian building is gorgeous in it proportions and set on what must be one of LA’s most spectacular sites. It has a wonderful planetarium that was both educational and entertaining. The views here are gorgeous in the day time. But it was at night that I had the defining experience of my visit here, probably not an intended one. The sun goes down and the lights come on, studding the cityscape with sparkling dots and dashes that twinkle through the haze that LA is wont to be covered in. The stars in the skies are outshined by the ones on Earth. Nothing else I’ve seen puts the extent of light pollution on our planet into stark reality so definitively, except maybe Las Vegas. Strange, isn’t it? This place exists to search the skies and shed light on the mysteries of space.

Our interest in food never wanes, even on short vacations. So when a local friend told me about the Grove, the Farmers’ market in downtown LA, it was put on the top of my places to visit. I’ve already waxed lyrical about my love for the Farmers’ markets here in San Francisco. The Grove is a good Farmers’ Market with some delicious food. However I thought it paled in comparison to the abundant and gorgeous produce of the Ferry Building Farmers’ market or the Berkeley Bowl. Also, it didn’t help that the experience kept getting interrupted by an over-zealous security guard who came up to us, several times, in the half hour we spent there. He didn’t seem to want to tell us to stop taking photos but he didn’t seem too happy that we were, in a vague fashion. Then apparently someone complained to him that we were taking photos. Someone.complained.we.were.taking.photos. In a public place. In LA. You would think this was one place on the planet that people with be familiar with a camera. Someone had a problem with me shooting monkey bread and pies. I can tell you it soured the Grove for us and we left it thoroughly confused and a bit miffed, leaving us with a bitter taste that overpowered the wonderful falafel we had for lunch. Made me long for home. No one cares about people with cameras in San Francisco. (I’d say the same for the rest of the world, everywhere except LA, but that would be spite. Gah!)

Anyway, the episode didn’t completely ruin our trip there. The spell of the sun and gorgeous day washed away the annoyance. We also quite accidently discovered this beautiful Indian temple on our way to Malibu which was just icing on the trip. So pretty and white, all by itself, tucked away in the mountains. It quite made up for the morning. There was a serenity reigning over the compound in stark contrast to how noisy and crowded temples can be in the Bay Area.

Before we left SoCal, we had some wonderful tapas in a small California-inspired Spanish restaurant. The tapas were delicious and small, but so filling that we weren’t able to satisfy our interest in the enticing paella photographed in the menu. So today, on this fairly hot San Francisco day, Amey and I decided that we’d try making our own paella, toasting to the memory of our wonderful little trip.

Neither of us is too familiar with cooking Spanish food so we turned to the Internet for explanation. What we found was that onion, garlic and tomatoes form the sofrito or base of this dish, as they often do in Spanish cooking, which put me back a bit in my comfort zone. These three form the base of many an Indian recipe as well. But then there were recipes that included parsley in the sofrito. Problem. Parsley is not one of my favourite herbs. In fact the only parsley dish I ever actually liked was some chimmichurri I had once. Mostly parsley tastes like soap to me. I’ve found the world around me is often divided into parsley lovers and cilantro lovers. Many a parsley lover has told me that to them, cilantro tastes like soap. Those exact words. Weird, no? But I digress..

We also found that recipes often call for all kinds of meat and seafood in the one recipe. This was another problem. Like that little kid who doesn’t like his food touching other food on his plate, I don’t like all kinds of meat playing along in one single dish. But Amey wanted there to be some in this dish, for a contrasting bite to the veggies, so we compromised on including two kinds of sausage instead of several meats. After agonizing over recipes, we decided we needed to make up our own, based on several variations. The result is what you see here.

Paella with sausage and veggies
Serves 3-4

Spicy Italian sausage – 1 link, cut into 1/4” rounds
Sweet basil and roasted garlic chicken sausage -1 link, cut into 1/4” rounds
Yellow onion – 1, diced
Garlic – 6 cloves, minced fine
Cilantro – handful, chopped fine
Green bell pepper- 1, cut into strips
Red bell pepper-1, cut into strips
Carrots – 2, diced
Canned whole tomatoes – 8 oz
Valencian rice – 2 cups OR Bomba rice – 1 1/2 cups
Green peas – 1 cup
Smoked paprika – 1/2 tsp
Saffron – a pinch
Olive oil – 3 tbsp
Water – 2 cups
Chicken stock – 2 cups
Salt to taste
Lemon – 1, cut into wedges

– In a large pan (the more flat surface area, the better), add the oil and the sausage cuts. Brown the sausage and then remove to a paper towel covered plate.
– Add the onion and saute for a while until it starts to caramelize. Then add the garlic and cilantro and fry some more.
– Add the pepper strips and carrots. Saute until for 5 minutes.
– Hand crush the tomatoes and add to the cooking pan. Saute the mixture until it starts to brown or caramelize.
– Fold in the rice into the tomato mixture. After completely folded in, add the water and stock. Keep stirring slowly to cook the rice gradually, about 10 minutes.
– Add the peas. Move the cooked sausage back to the pan.
– Take a few tablespoons of hot liquid out into a bowl. Soak the saffron in this for a bit and return the liquid to the pan. Mix to incorporate. Cover the pan and let cook on medium low heat until the rice is cooked through.
– When almost all the liquid has gone, turn the heat up to caramelize and toast up the bottom layer of rice.

To serve, plate some rice including some from the bottom of the pan. Serve with lemon wedges for squeezing over.

Cook’s notes:
Traditionally, the Spanish use a paellera; a flat, shallow pan took make paella. I don’t own one so I went with the largest shallow pan I had. You can substitute arborio rice for the traditionally used Bomba or Valencian rice (we got ours from The Spanish Table in Berkeley) but paella does is supposed to have separate, distinct grains, different from the texture of risotto. At any rate, do not use a long-grain rice like Basmati. It will probably turn to mush. The two kinds of sausage were amazing in this recipe, infusing their flavours into the oil. Even so, I think a vegetarian version would be pretty good too. Just leave out the sausage and use veggie stock.

Several recipes said that food colour is substituted because saffron is expensive, but that saffron is the heart of the dish. Every bite had an almost-floral afternote because of the saffron. I would not substitute it with anything else. Saffron is pricey, but so strong that hardly any recipe calls for more than a pinch at a time. If you store it well, tightly capped in a cool, dry and dark place, it has a long shelf life.

We decided to substitute the parsley we read about in some recipes with cilantro. I’m guessing this isn’t quite authentic, nevertheless, it worked brilliantly. This rice dish was piquant and satisfying at the same time, the twist of lemon at the end giving it a fabulous tang. I think the only thing I might try the next time I make it would be to use fresh tomatoes instead of canned ones. It did seem to have an excess of tomato, never a bad thing in my book, but it did tend to overpower the other flavours a bit, so you had to hunt for them. And remember to dish out a bit of the toasted rice in each helping. It really adds to the flavour of the meal. Anyone who has had caramelised onions on a biryani would understand. It is a similar layer of flavour.

The sunshine in San Francisco today echoed the intense heat in LA from our trip there and paella was a culmination of sunshine on our plates. I raise my glass to the West Coast. Right now, warm plate in hand, gazing at an azure sky, I’m exactly where I want to be.

*To learn more about the travel photos and see others, check out the Flickr set.

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Spiced Tomato – Coconut Soup

Tomatoes. Fresh, luscious, straight-off-the-vine. glistening and full of flavour!

The actual association of tomatoes with physical summer has come about more for me after moving out of India. Back there, not only are good tomatoes available all year round, the sunshine is more or less always there too. But here, one waits till summer to have the truly tantalizing tomatoes. The rest of the year we make do with what we can get. They are certainly better than no tomatoes, but not a patch on the summer freshness of the pomme d’amour in season.

There’s nothing more alluring about summer than the tomato. They are everywhere in the markets, ripe and ready, simply there for the taking. You slice one up and inhale the heady bouquet. There is sunshine all around you even on a cold day in July. Yes, you heard that right. Cold day in July. I’m not talking about the southern hemisphere either. While the rest of the country is sweating it out and bitching about heatwaves (as a friend of mine up in Seattle so delicately puts it), we are having shivery days under thick blankets of grey-white fog. While I do love the cold and am not too crazy about heat, I do miss the sun. I’ll take it where I can find it, and nothing delivers like new seasons’ tomatoes.

It is strange how much I love the nightshade family of vegetables (though some are technically fruits). Maybe I dabbled in poisons in a past life? At any rate, the potato, the chilli peppers (self-evident how I feel about those) and the tomato; poisonous they are not. What they are, is tops on my list of favourites. There is no better sandwich than a good tomato, cut into thick steaks, on good white bread with some cheese, salt and pepper. For me, there wasn’t a better sandwich for years. Tomato, bread and cheddar, that what I demanded for lunch every time I had to take a packed lunch; to school, for the school picnic…or simply because it was Tuesday.  There is something inherently comforting sitting with that tomato sandwich, the piquant juices oozing into the bread and running down your fingers. You experience an unexpected lifting of your spirits. It is like metaphorical sunshine for your soul.

It was also here that I discovered the heirloom tomato. Ever since, I’m torn between the scarlet red tomatoes and the rich greens, yellows, and purples of the heirloom variety. Also the ridiculous shapes crack me up. They are the funniest looking veggies around, unless of course, there’s some ginger around. (What can I say! I’m an architect! We respond to form.:)) Sometimes I end up with quantities of both. This is a major no-no in my tiny apartment, which can look like it is drowning in tomatoes even if I only have a couple of dozen or so on the counter. Tomatoes are best stored out of the refrigerator. This is exactly where I found myself after a recent trip to the market. Fortunately, I also have this recipe for a sublime tomato soup.

Given the recent weather in San Francisco, a soup is completely apropos. This recipe is essentially one for a saar, a thin type of curry eaten over rice. But many dals and curries make a comfortable transition to soup, just like that of a sauce. This is another of my mother-in-law’s gems, a genius recipe for a cold summer.

Tomato soup with a twist

Tomatoes – 6, medium to large
Chilli powder – 1 tsp
Peppercorns – 4-5
Coconut milk – 3 tbsp
Honey – 1 tsp
Chickpea flour – 1 1/2 tsp
Canola oil- 2 tbsp
Curry Leaves – 4
Asafoetida – 1/2 tsp
Cumin seeds – 1 tsp
Cilantro for garnish

– Put the tomatoes in a large pot. Pour enough water to cover the tomatoes. Bring the water to a boil along with the tomatoes. (about 15 to 20 minutes).
– Pick the tomatoes out of the water and plunge into a bowl of cold water. This should loosen the skins which you should remove.
– In a blender, add the skinned tomatoes, peppercorns, coconut milk and chickpea flour and puree until smooth.
– Pour back into the pot and add salt, chilli powder and honey. Bring the soup to a boil over medium heat.
– In a small pan, heat the oil. Temper the oil with cumin, curry leaves and asafoetida.
– Pour the tempered oil into the heated tomato soup.

Ladle into bowls to serve and garnish with cilantro.. and a few croutons, if you like.

Cook’s notes:
The tomatoes shine through brilliantly in this soup. It looks a bit like a light cream of tomato, but is infinitely healthier. The little bit of chilli powder you add, coupled with the peppercorns give the soup a deep heat that rise up on your tongue just behind the piquant sweet and sour taste of the tomato and honey, rounding off the flavour nicely. Wonderful as this is served over rice, as a soup it acquires an unadulterated dimension, the tomatoes singing in your mouth with each spoonful. The coconut milk gives the entire thing a silky smooth finish, barely there as it is. I worked my way through two and a half bowls without pause. It was impossible to put down the spoon. Amey was over the moon as he worked his way through the rest of it, mopping up remaining splashes with the piece of bread we didn’t bake into croutons. I’m sure this would taste just as great served cold.

It may be a real summer where you are. Even so, if you find yourself in possession of a few tomatoes and at a loss of something new to do with them, give this recipe a try. Summer tomatoes are so rarely turned into a soup, even though they do very well as one. This recipe celebrates it as well as your favourite tomato standby. It will not disappoint.