Fish Fragrant Eggplant

eggplant

eggplant

Yesterday afternoon I could be found in my cube, listening to back episodes of Spilled Milk – specifically the eggplant episode, silently shaking with laughter to the point of tears about heirloom eggplant names.

On a related note, I’ve decided to name my next cat “Little Spooky.”

The recipe that followed, Fuchsia Dunlop’s Fish Fragrant Eggplant sounded so delicious I had to make it immediately. Like seriously, I left work early to buy eggplants.

A couple of substitutions (per usual) for weeknight convenience of not having to run out of my way to the Asian market: although I had Chinese black vinegar on hand, I didn’t have the Sichuan chili paste (Google said sambal oelek was comparable so I used that – but since it is straight chili and lacks the fermented beans there was definitely an umamious element missing), and also I used corn starch instead of potato starch which is a more acceptable swap.

This turned out completely silky spicy delicious, I don’t even know if I should make it with the right chili paste because it might blow my mind.

Fish Fragrant Eggplant

Found in Fuchsia Dunlop’s Land of Plenty: A Treasury of Authentic Sichuan Cooking

1 1/4 lbs eggplant (about 2 large or 3 medium eggplants)
salt
oil for deep frying (about 2 cups)
1 1/2 tbsp Sichuan chili bean paste (sambal oelek in a pinch, but I will absolutely get the right stuff next time)
1 tbsp grated ginger
1 tbsp grated garlic
2/3 cup chicken stock
2 tsp sugar
3/4 tsp potato flour (or corn starch) mixed with one tbsp cold water
2 tsp Chinkiang vinegar
4 tbsp finely sliced spring onions (green part)

Slice the eggplants lengthwise into 3 thick slices, then into evenly sized batons. Toss them with a good sprinkle of salt and leave in a colander for 30 minutes to drain.

Heat oil in a wok, and fry the eggplant in batches (3-4 minutes until golden). Remove to a paper towel.

Pour off the oil from the wok and add back 3 tbsp. Heat on medium and add the chili paste and stir-fry until the oil is red and fragrant. Add the garlic and ginger and fry for a few minutes (do not burn).

Add stock and sugar and mix. Add the fried eggplant and let simmer gently for a few minutes. Stir starch mixtures, then pour over eggplant and stir gently to thicken the sauce. Season with salt if necessary, but it’s probably salty enough already. Add vinegar and spring onions, stir in and serve with rice.

No fish were harmed in the creation of this fish fragrant dish.

Punjabi Kadhi

kadhi

kadhi

These pakoras look a little sad – I was running out of besan so they didn’t get quite the batter they needed. Yummy nonetheless.

I was feeling very smug during our last trip to Pakistan as my husband told my mother-in-law that I had been cooking a lot of Pakistani food at home…much less smug after the very first thing she asked me was if I had made was kadhi. Which I had not.

Immediately upon our return I made an attempt to close the gaping hole in my repertoire. The concept of “yogurt stew” was unfamiliar, so more than usual with my homemade Pakistani food experiments I was chasing poor Shan around the house with spoonfuls, demanding “I think this tastes good, but is it authentic?”

Now I make it pretty frequently, and it’s come to taste just as comforting and homey as everyone claims it does. I tried a few different recipes (including my sister-in-law’s), but our household favorite and the one that I follow almost exactly is the Kadhi from Veg Recipes of India (a site I cook from fairly often – the recipe is very detailed with pics of each step).

A few things I learned or found helpful:

  1. This is Punjabi kadhi. Gujarati kadhi is thinner and I am not making that because no one will be impressed.
  2. From my vast internet research, there seem to be different variations, for example with tomatoes or other vegetables, or without pakoras or eaten as a soup without rice. However, hubs said the only way his family ever ate it was with the pakoras and rice.
  3. Curry leaves look like bay leaves but they are not. I had actually never used them before this, because although I had seen them in recipes I’d wanted to try, I didn’t know where to find them (my regular desi market only has dried spices). Then I trekked to an Indian grocer with a fresh produce section, where I found them with the refrigerated greens, veggies and herbs. Curry leaves have a distinct, lovely fragrance, and now I love using them.
  4. My sister-in-law instructs letting the kadhi simmer for at least 5 hours to make it sufficiently sour. I don’t often have 5 hours to babysit a simmering pot, so the sourness is much more easily achieved by leaving your yogurt out in the morning to sour a bit before you cook it in the evening (ideal) or cheating with a little amchoor powder (less ideal, but not beneath me). Then you only have to simmer 15 minutes.
  5. All the recipes I saw instruct you to mix the besan with a little water and make sure you get out all the lumps before you mix it with the yogurt. My original and ingenious technique is to instead sift the besan over the yogurt then whip it in with a whisk.
  6. This recipe calls for yogurt from a half liter of milk (which she elsewhere says is equal to a large bowl…?). So translation for us lazy grocery store yogurt procurers: 1.5 to 2 cups
  7. She also calls for 4 red onions for the pakoras, but I must have atomic onions because two was plenty.
  8. Kadhi tastes better the next day, so get ready for happy desk lunches.

Kadhi

Recipe from Veg Recipes of India with just couple adjustments

For the onion pakoras
2 cups besan
1 cup water
2 medium sized red onions, sliced
1 tsp ajwain seeds
1 tsp red chili powder
½ tsp garam masala powder
a pinch of asafoetida

Mix besan in a bowl with carom seeds, red chili powder, garam masala powder and salt.
Add sliced onions to the bowl and pour a little water. Don’t add too much water as the onions will release water later.
Mix well and set aside for 0-30 minutes.

The onions will release enough water to make the batter liquidy. If the batter still feels dry, add some water to it. check the seasoning. Heat oil for deep or shallow frying. Fry on both sides until crisp and brown, drain and set aside.

For the kadhi
curd made from half a litre of milk (1.5 – 2 cups)
1 cup besan
4 cups water
2 tsp red chili powder
1 and half teaspoon turmeric powder
1 tsp garam masala powder
salt to taste

In a big bowl, whip the yogurt until it is smooth. Using a strainer or flour sift, sift besan over the yogurt and add turmeric, red chili, garam masala and salt. Whip until very smooth, make sure there are no lumps. Add water and mix well.

For the tempering
A couple tablespoons mustard oil
1 medium sized onion, finely chopped (optional – I skipped this time)
1 and half tbsp garlic ginger paste
1 tsp cumin seeds
¼ tsp methi/fenugreek seeds
2 small sprigs curry leaves
2 green chili
1 or 2 dry red chilies (optional, but recommended as are very pretty floating in the yellow kadhi)
3 tbsp mustard oil or ghee or any vegetable oil
a pinch or two of asafoetida
 

Heat mustard oil on high until smoking (to remove the raw taste). Cool a bit, then add cumin seeds and let them sizzle. Add garlic ginger paste and green chili, cook for a few minutes, then add curry leaves and dry red chilies.

To finish:
Poor the yogurt mixture over the tempering, bring to a boil then simmer for 8-10 minutes. Add the pakoras (that will fit, there will be more on the side) to the top of the kadhi, cover and close the pan so they can soak in for a few minutes.

Garnish with cilantro and serve with basmati rice.

Castilian Garlic Soup

garlic-soup

Castilian Garlic Soup

I love this soup, because I am in love with both peasant food and offensive flavors.

There are couple ways you can go with this soup. Straight up traditional peasant recipes are just some garlic cloves cooked in olive oil, with water, tons of paprika, and stale bread. This lovely sounding recipe from New Mediterranean uses lots more garlic, and fancies it up a little with sherry and saffron, and floated garlic toasts. I like the technique of mashing the garlic cloves into the broth. Either way, this is most often made with eggs, either stirred in egg-drop soup style or poached on top.

I went with the more peasanty one (although I want to try the fancy version). It’s vegetarian, and forgoes delicate saffron in favor of an obscene amount of paprika for the uncultured tongue, which rises up in clouds and makes the soup a lovely dark red. Also, as it’s eggless, it needed a little something to be heavy enough for a light meal, so I added some chickpeas. We peasants do what we want.

Castilian Garlic Soup

3 tbsp olive oil
2 heads garlic, peeled, huge cloves chopped in half
1 tbsp paprika
splash of sherry
6 cups vegetable broth
1 can (or two cups cooked) chickpeas

To serve:
croutons: 1-2 pieces bread, cubed, tossed with a little olive oil, and sea salt, and toasted
nice spritz lemon juice – don’t skip!
chopped parsley

Heat olive oil and garlic on medium/medium lowish heat. Cook very gently, stirring, until they are soft, about 10-15 minutes, being very careful not to brown.

Add paprika and stir for a minute, then add sherry, broth, and chickpeas. Bring to a simmer for several minutes. Adjust seasoning if necessary.

Spoon into a bowl, spritz with lemon juice, and sprinkle parsley and a few croutons.

I cooked rice in leftovers, which turned out delicious. Peasant food or not, there’s something decadent about eating whole cloves of (cooked) garlic.

Spaghetti with Spinach and Walnut Sauce

spaghetti-walnut-spinach

So Zoeya, like a three year old does, has rebelled against the lentils she used to love. It's really messing up my Monday night dinners. Of course I still give them to her, but tonight I wanted to make something I didn't have to coax her to eat. Also something that I would love, something pretty decadent for a Monday...almost as decadent as eating most of a box of Girl Scout cookies (what?).

This is simple but delicious.

Spaghetti with Spinach and Walnut Sauce

1/2 lb spaghetti, preferably whole wheat although I had semolina from somewhere.
Cook to al dente in water salty like the sea

olive oil
1 onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, chopped
salt & pepper
3/4 cup walnuts
juice of half a lemon
2 tbsp tahini
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 c warm water
1 bunch spinach, chopped

Heat olive oil in a large pan. Saute onion and garlic until very soft. Meanwhile, in a food processor, blitz walnuts and lemon juice. Add onion and garlic (don’t wash the pan it was in), with tahini, olive oil, and water, and a generous sprinkle of salt and pepper. and puree to a sauce (if very thick, add a little more water, and adjust seasoning if necessary). Toss spinach in the pan with a sprinkle of salt, and as it starts to wilt add the walnut mixture to heat back through.

Add pasta to pan and toss to coat. Serve.

Zoeya loved it (after she ascertained it wasn’t made with red sauce which she also arbitrarily decided she dislikes), but since there is a kid in her class with a nut allergy I get the yummy lunch leftovers all to my self.

Prelude to Valentine’s Day with Red Food: Harissa; and Quinoa Salad with Fennel and Pomegranate

quinoa-fennel-pomegranate-salad

This Saturday, the weekend before the much loved/dreaded Valentine’s Day, my sister had a potluck with her work friends. As she is aware of my enthusiasm for potlucks, she invited Zoeya and me. The theme was Red Food. (Sidenote: this was not my first Red Food potluck). She made a delicious baked spaghetti and one of her friends brought an amazing red velvet, white chocolate and raspberry trifle – no beef, we asked. My contribution was a harissa-esque dip served over hummus, and a quinoa salad.


I tried to shape the harissa into a heart!

Here’s something spicy you can make for your lovah: harissa. I use the term “harissa” loosely – this was more of a dip than a sauce or paste, and I made it not-too-spicy lest there be wimpy tongues at the party, but honestly the heat could have been to be turned up a notch (next time!). The other silly thing I did was that after I blitzed it the first time I decided that in color it wasn’t red enough for a red food party so I added some tandoori masala thinking that spices were spices. Mistake! Although it still tasted good, it starting smelling distinctly Indian instead of a North African…so next time, paprika.

This is very versatile! Use as a dip, condiment on salads or sandwiches, or as a wet rub or part of a marinade. I served it over hummus.

Red Pepper and Sun-dried Tomato Harissa

3 red peppers
heaping tsp each cumin and coriander seeds
seeds from 2 cardamom pods
5 cloves
1 jar sun-dried tomatoes (minus the several I ate)
heaping tsp paprika
salt & pepper
1/2 – 2 tbsp red pepper flakes, depending on how hot you want it (maybe a little less for a dip and more for a condiment or wet rub)
1 tbsp olive oil

Heat oven to 450° Roast the red peppers by placing them directly on the oven rack and roast until blacked, turning once. Remove to a glass bowl and cover to sweat them (so it will be easier to take the skins off). Once cool, remove stems, seeds, and skins.

In the meantime, in a dry skillet toast cumin seeds, coriander seeds, cardamom seeds and cloves. Grind to a powder with a mortar and pestle or spice grinder.

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and process to a thick paste. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.

I also made:

I had my Persephone Salad in mind, but was in the mood to make something with quinoa. I found this recipe for Quinoa, Fennel, and Pomegranate Salad online, which looked delicious, but I still wanted to make pomegranate vinaigrette so I combined the two!

Quinoa Salad with Fennel and Pomegranate

For the quinoa
1 1/2 cups quinoa, rinsed (red if possible! I couldn’t find it so used tricolored)
olive oil
2 bulbs fennel, sliced (reserve fronds)
4 cloves garlic
tsp cumin seeds
tsp chili powder
handful fennel fronds (removed from stalk), chopped
handful cilantro, chopped
handful mint, chopped
1 head red leaf lettuce, chopped

Bring 5 cups of water to a boil. Add quinoa, reduce to a simmer, and cook covered until quinoa is tender, about 15 minutes. Drain.

In the meantime, heat olive oil to medium high and saute fennel and garlic with salt & pepper until fennel is very tender. Add cumin seeds and chili powder and saute for another minute.

Toss warm quinoa with fennel, herbs, and lettuce (I just love tossing warm things with lettuce because it makes it super green and wilts it just slightly).

For the vinaigrette
3 tbsp pomegranate molasses
3 tbsp sherry vinegar
1 tbsp honey
salt & pepper
6 tbsp olive oil

Whisk all together.

Toss quinoa and vinaigrette together, and top the whole thing with 1/4 cup or so pomegranate seeds

Someone enjoyed dinner (although she was more a fan of the spaghetti than the salad).


Zoeya’s favorite thing to say to me nowadays is “I am waiting patiently, but you are taking TOO LONG!”

Red Thai Curry Soup with Sweet Potatoes and Kale

sweet-potato-soup

Once again I saw a delicious-looking soup recipe on BrokeAss Gourmet that inspired me to make my own variation based on what I had in my pantry. This time it was Coconut Soup with Sweet Potato and Lime. I had red Thai curry paste so I made kind of a Thai curry soup, and threw in some kale because what don’t I throw kale in nowadays?

By the way, eat more kale! It’s good for you!

Red Thai Curry Soup with Sweet Potatoes and Kale

olive oil (not authentic, I don’t care)
1 onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, chopped
salt & pepper
some ginger if you have it but I was out
5 cups vegetable broth or water
1/2 cup coconut milk
2 tbsp red Thai curry paste
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut in 1 inch cubes
1 bunch kale, destemmed and chopped
juice of half a lime

Heat olive oil and add onion, garlic and salt, sauteing until onion is translucent. Add ginger (if you are lucky enough to not be out) and curry paste, and cook, stirring for a minute. Add vegetable broth, coconut milk and sweet potatoes. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, simmering until sweet potato is easily smashed, but not falling apart (about 20 min). Add kale and lime juice, cooking for just a minute until kale wilts, then serve hot with lime slices and hot sauce.

I ate bowl after bowl, and started stirring in a little sambal oelek for some heat – so yummy! Zoeya liked it too once I convinced her that is was sweet potato (which she likes), not squash (which she doesn’t).

Black Beans and Rice with Roasted Tomato Salsa

beans-tomatoes

The beans didn’t finish cooking in time for dinner, so Zoeya and I took them for lunch!

Two things threatened to ruin this meal, but I am happy to report that I persevered, and it all worked out ok.

The first was that when I bothered to read the label of the chipotles in adobo sauce that I love so much (in things like chili and the eggs I used to eat), I found out they have HFCS in them. Mother expletive! I yelled – in my head of course – in the middle of the grocery store aisle. So obviously I didn’t buy them. I made my own smokey chili flavor with dried California chiles and molasses.

The second was that these beans took forever (forever!) to cook. I mean, I knew they’d take a long time, but this was multiple evenings, including overnight crockpot.

I did not soak them beforehand and I did add salt at the beginning, because Spilled Milk told me it was a myth that these things would make them take longer…but now I’m not so sure, I may have been led astray. As you can see, I am not as expert in dried beans as I am in dried lentils. Next time I’ll do this on a weekend and maybe freeze some to save myself a headache. Or just use a can.

The roasted tomato salsa/tarka came together gorgeously and without hassle, and was so delicious I think it could saved just about anything.

Black Beans and Rice with Roasted Tomato Salsa

For the beans:
1 cup dried black beans – mine were pretty big, it probably wouldn’t have taken as long with the tiny black beans. You can also use canned beans, just don’t cook as long.
2 dried California chiles, stems removed (these are smokey, not spicy)
2 tbsp molasses
4 carrots, diced
juice of half a lime
salt

Add everything to a large pot with water to cover by several inches, and boil, adding water when needed, until the beans are soft. This will take several years hours. You can also do this in a crock pot. Reduce liquid to a stoup. (Oh yes I said it!) Adjust seasoning, beans take a lot of salt.

For the roasted tomato salsa:
1 pint cherry tomatoes
salt & pepper
olive oil
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp chili powder
small handful cilantro, chopped
juice of half a lime

Toss tomatoes with generous sprinkle of salt, pepper, and a little olive oil, and roast at 400° until blistered. Meanwhile, heat a couple tbsp olive oil and sauté garlic cloves, cumin, and chili powder. Remove from heat and toss together with tomatoes, cilantro, and lime juice.

To serve:

Serve over rice (I used leftover basmati, but if I were making it fresh I’d use a medium grain), make a layer of beans, and top with tomatoes, sliced avocado, and a spritz of lime juice and hot sauce.

Harira (Moroccan Chickpea Soup)

harira

Our friend Stephen has mentioned a couple of times this yummy Moroccan soup he makes – chickpeas, tomatoes, and spices. It sounded delicious, and this lazy Sunday Zoeya and I were just hanging around the house so it seemed a great time to try it (I feel much less lazy if I have something simmering on the stove while I’m doing nothing else important).

Harira is traditionally eaten to open fast during Ramadan, but there’s no need to wait until then. This is complete comfort food, with the added bonus of perfuming the whole house with cinnamon – heavenly!

Harira

2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 inch ginger, peeled and grated
salt & pepper
2 cinnamon sticks
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp saffron, crumbled
4 medium tomatoes, chopped
heaping cup dried chickpeas – preferably soaked overnight, drained and rinsed
3 tbsp lentils (I used chana dal)
6 cups water or vegetable broth or combo
handful broken vermicelli (or spaghetti in a pinch!)
handful cilantro, chopped
handful parsley, chopped
juice of half a lemon
one bunch spinach, roughly chopped

Heat olive oil (medium highish), and add onions, garlic, and ginger, and a generous sprinkle of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are translucent. Add all spices, and cook, stirring. Add tomatoes and cook until they start to break down. Add chickpeas, lentils, and broth/water. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer; simmer until chickpeas are soft, an hour and a half to two hours (during which time your house will smell wonderful).

Add vermicelli (or spaghetti, lame), parsley, and cilantro, and simmer several minutes, until noodles are cooked. At the end, spritz the pot with lemon juice and adjust seasoning (you’ll probably need more salt) and add spinach and cook until wilted.

Serve hot!

By the way, this is my 100th post! Here’s a witchy gypsy song to mark it – play it while you’re cooking this, will definitely set a spicy mood.

Tan Cani by Aloehverah on Grooveshark

Ga Kho Xa (Lemongrass Caramel Chicken)

lemongrass-caramel-chicken

Less than a week into the New Year and my excitement has transformed, but in a way, I am even more motivated – disappointment, frustration and spite are pretty motivating. I’m putting together a plan of attack. A plan of attack!

I was listening to The Nerdist podcast, an interview with Emma Caulfield (who I love! Admittedly for Buffy but also for doing all this other creative stuff and embracing web culture), and she said she is really busy and frustrated which is how I feel sometimes. The host Chris Hardwick throws out some sage wisdom, ideas like “controlfreakism” and “make your third reaction your first reaction.” Hmm.

But enough reflection. She says she turns off the internal chatter by running, I do it by cooking (obviously). This week I made ga kho xa, which is Vietnamese lemongrass caramel chicken – my friend Gloria sent me several recipes for what to do with my lemongrass. Small triumph, I managed to turn my frustrations into something sweet and salty and delicious.

Ga Kho Xa (Lemongrass Caramel Chicken)

Adapted for convenience from Gloria’s recipe

1 lb chicken thighs or drumsticks – leave on skin and bones for more flavor
2 tbsp + 1 tsp brown sugar (I actually misread this and there should be more sugar in the sauce, but I’ll just tell you what I did and it was still yummy)
2 tbsp + 1 tsp fish sauce
2 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tbsp water
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 lemongrass stalk, chopped in half and smashed with a rolling pin
1 onion, sliced
2 red chiles, thinly sliced (I left this out per usual for Zoeya, served with chili sauce for me and Shan)

In large bowl, marinate chicken with 1 tsp fish sauce and 1 tsp brown sugar.
In separate bowl, combine remaining ingredients and set aside.

In large deep pan, sear chicken skin-side down with some oil until browned.  Add a little bit of sauce to the pan to coat bottom of pan.  Allow sauce and chicken to caramelize.  Flip chicken and add in the remaining sauce cooking over medium heat until sauce thickens and chicken is fully cooked. Remove lemongrass stalks.

Serve with rice. I served with brown rice and sauteed kale.

My plate looks like My Plate. Also, Zoeya is so silly.

Frenchy Lentils and Roasty Beets

frenchy-lentils

Cute little French lentils have an earthy flavor – perfect for fall! – and take nicely to flavors both sharp (dijon mustard, balsamic vinegar) and sweet (carrots, molasses). They go really nicely with roasted beets, which I just love, mostly because they turn everything they touch an obscene magenta. I learned an ingenious method to cook them, which is just to trim the stalks and roast them whole with a little olive oil. After they cool, the skins will slip right off, and you can avoid staining your fingertips and cutting board.

Frenchy Lentils and Roasty Beets

For lentils:
olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic
salt & pepper
1 tsp paprika
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 tsp dijon mustard
1 tsp molasses
2 carrots, diced
1 1/2 c French lentils
water
dash balsamic vinegar

Heat olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. Cook onion, garlic, salt and pepper, stirring, until the onion is translucent. Add paprika, stirring for a minute, then tomato paste. Add dijon, molasses, carrots, lentils, and about 3 cups water. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to medium low and cook, stirring occasionally and adding more water if necessary, until lentils are softened. Adjust seasoning (you’ll probably need more salt), and finish with a dash of balsamic vinegar (and maybe another little drizzle of olive oil).

For beets:
1 bunch beets, trimmed
olive oil

Heat oven to 450°. Arrange beets in a pan lined with foil and drizzle with olive oil. Roast until a fork easily goes through the beet. Allow to cool, remove skins, and slice.