Tagged: vegetarian

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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Annie Somerville’s Polenta in a Gorgonzola cream sauce with Walnuts

Today, I woke up to a cat. Not my cat. I don’t have a cat. I wish I had a cat. Or a dog. I’m not particular on that point. I just wish I had a pet.  You may be wondering “Why is she making a big deal out of this? Cats, they’ve been around humans for millenia, haven’t they? It’s not like she came face-to-face with a dinosaur!” (That would have been some conversation starter, wouldn’t it? “Today, I met Barney. The real thing my dear! And you know, he’s more vivid mauve than purple, positively fuchsia!”)

Now that we’ve got that cleared up, on with the tale. As I was saying, on waking today, I came face-to-face with a cat. The sighting at close quarters was strange for a couple of reasons. First, I’d just woken from a strange dream involving Superman, the Incredible Hulk, the Cheshire cat and the Mad Hatter cooking together (I suspect this had something to do with watching too much TV and consuming some questionable leftover pie much too late last night, but I’m always glad when Johnny Depp shows up in my dream life, especially since he will never be there in the waking one…sigh). The last elusive image I had in my head was a cat grinning over a steaming pot, just before I woke from my weird shallows of slumber. I stumbled drowsily into the kitchen for a warm cuppa and rolled up the window shades to see a calm, grey tabby just sitting there, staring at me with perfect equanimity. As you can imagine, the feeling was surreal. Second, this would be an absolute first cat sighting for me in the environs of my apartment building. I’ve seen them sitting at windows as I pass by other places in the city. But, to my chagrin, these places are never around me. Not one person in the vicinity has ever had a cat as far as I can see. (I live around some pet-hating landlords.) Yet here was this one, an honest-to-goodness, fluffy grey cat with white socks, pale green-grey eyes and a lovely grey-white-black tail curled comfortably around her.

We stared at each other for a bit, motionless and silent. The cat kindly let me get a hold of my scattered senses; she seemed to have decided that any sudden moves might send me over the edge. Then slowly, deliberately, she lifted her paw in a half-greeting and then proceeded to give it a thorough washing. When she was done, she looked up and seemed a bit miffed that I still hadn’t moved. Her feline gestures seemed to suggest a slight impatience with the human. She got up gracefully, stretched in that mind-bogglingly flexible way that only cats can, and padded her way on silent paws to the edge of the lobby roof where she sat, giving me a reproachful look and a plaintive miaow. “Here I am,” she seemed to say, “out in the cold at your window and you won’t even offer me some milk! What would your mother say?” (My mother, while assiduously denying animals room and board, is nevertheless a famous feeder of stray cats. Famous. Ask any of our neighbours.) That look jolted me right out of my stupor. It was reminiscent of my nephew when he was younger and was told he couldn’t have any chocolate. Just so woeful. I looked about for some milk for her, but realised that if she had it, then me and Amey would have to do without. Telling my husband this early in the morning that he can’t have any milk (“because the cat asked for some”) might cause him to look about on how to get me committed. He’s a bear when he hasn’t had his morning coffee. So in the interest of my well-being, I tentatively offered her the last bit of the questionable pie.


She sniffed at it with suspicion, then proceeded to consume it with a rather browbeaten air, as will a guest when his hostess insists he try something he can’t stand, but is too polite to refuse. The deed done, she licked her whiskers clean and then proceeded to chew her tail in a gentle, abstracted fashion for a few minutes. Then, quite suddenly, with the air of the end of a performance, she stretched with an athlete’s commitment and took off, gracefully jumping onto a tree from the roof as she proceeded to make her way to the ground. Then, with a slow blink of those green eyes, she was gone, quite as suddenly as she had appeared into my life. No forwarding address, no P.O Box Number. Disconsolate, I could only hope she made her way home safely before the traffic picked up for the morning. This early morning event left me craving something warm, comforting and nourishing for a meal. With daydreams of having my own cat (or dog) someday, I thumbed through the books for inspiration. That’s when I spied this little recipe for polenta.

Polenta came into my culinary horizon fairly recently. There was a grilled version of polenta I ate as an appetizer at Greens restaurant that I fell head-over-heels in love with. The way you feel when you meet the one and wonder where they’ve been your entire life. Polenta is made rather easily from cornmeal and has a way of firming up as it cools down. This porridge is then sliced and browned on a skillet or toasted in the oven until its outsides crisp up a bit. It tastes of mushed up corn and is a blank palette for any number of flavours that you can throw at it. At Greens, I ate it with some mushrooms and it was one of the most delectable things I’ve ever eaten. This recipe was different. It called for the gentle poaching of ingredients in cream while you cooked, cooled and grilled the polenta. Some gorgonzola cheese and walnuts rounded out the flavours. A warming gem of a dish. It leaves you with the same contentment you get from having a warm and purring cat sitting on your lap.

Polenta and Walnuts with a Gorgonzola and herbed cream sauce
Adapted from Annie Sommerville’s Everyday Greens
Serves 3 to 4 as an entrée, maybe twice as many as an appetizer

For the polenta:
Water – 4 cups
Cornmeal – 1 cup
Olive oil – 2 tbsp
Parmesan cheese – 1/4 cup, grated
A quick two gratings of nutmeg and cardamom
Salt and pepper to taste

For the sauce:
Half-and half OR skimmed milk – 1 cup
Cream – 1 cup
Red onion – 1/2, sliced fine
Garlic cloves – 3 to 4, smashed with the flat of a knife, paper skins left on,
Bay leaf – 1
Fresh Thyme sprigs – 2
Fresh oregano sprig – 1
Sage – 3 leaves
Gorgonzola cheese – 3/4 cup, crumbled
Kasseri or Fontina cheese – 1/4 cup, grated
Walnut pieces – 1/2 cup, toasted
Basil leaves – a half-handful, chopped into a chiffonade

To make the polenta:
– In a saucepan, bring the water to a boil. Salt the water, then add the cornmeal. Lower the heat a bit to gently cook the polenta until it smoothly thickens, about 20 minutes or so.
– When the polenta is cooked, take it off the heat. Stir in the pepper, nutmeg, cardamom and olive oil.
– Pour into a 9″x15″ dish and allow it to cool. Upon cooling, slice the polenta into  six or eight squares (which can be cut into triangles if the dish is to be an appetizer).

To make the sauce:
– Combine the cream, milk, onion, garlic and herbs in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring it to a boil and then lower the heat to simmer the sauce. Allow the sauce to reduce slightly, cooking for about 15 minutes.
– Strain the cream sauce, then return to the saucepan. Add half the Gorgonzola cheese to it, whisking it in to melt, over low heat. Season with salt and pepper as needed.

To assemble the dish:
– While the sauce is cooking, pour a little olive oil onto a skillet. Lightly crisp the polenta slices on the skillet until golden brown. Alternatively you could place the slices with some olive oil into a pre-heated oven at 325°F for 15-20 minutes.
– Place a couple of square (or a couple of triangles) on a plate . Sprinkle some Fontina (or Kasseri) and some of the reserved Gorgonzola on the slices, then ladle over some of the sauce. Sprinkle with some of the walnut pieces and a generous amount of basil. Enjoy right away!

Cook’s notes:
I like lots of basil. So I didn’t didn’t bother with a chiffonade. Annie Sommerville suggests plating the polenta on a plate of arugula. I might have used it if I had it, or I would have used some watercress. Turned out I didn’t have any, so I just made up for the lack of it with lots of basil. (After the pictures, the dish went all green). The cooking of the sauce threw me a bit. I’ve never poached onions in cream before…to be frank, I’ve never poached onions in anything before. I’ve always browned them in oil or had them raw. The poaching here gently brings out the essence of the onion, herbs and the garlic. Sure, it all gets discarded but it has passed some of its soul onto the cream. It leaves behind a very luxurious, fragrant sauce that’s a real treat with the crisped polenta.

This is certainly a rich dish, but satisfying and very good with just the salad. As an appetizer, I would serve small individual portions to ensure that my guests save some room for the main course. A couple of pieces stacked together should do. The polenta can be made a day ahead, sliced and placed into the fridge. When required they can then be crisped on the skillet before assembly. One bite of this takes you to a warm, happy time. Mine I imagine, would be curled up on a sofa, with a book and my cat, if I had a cat.

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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.