Tagged: vegan

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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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!

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

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.

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.