Comfort Chickpea and Fish Pilaf – Memories of Black Cardamom

Among the many people in my life, who I think of in the kitchen is Rosy. In an ideal world, I would be able to tell her how much and how often I think of her, but the distance would make my effusive emotions sound too ostentatious and this would embarrass her.

Rosy was one of my colleagues in graduate school, she and I, took many a class together and she also cooked many a meal and taught me tips and tricks about many a spice and how to use them.

She once told me that her name meant, a bouquet of roses, I think that is how I think of her. She was always neat, dressed in colorful semi-traditional clothes, actually her idea of wearing long tunics over jeans is so trendy now that we are all doing it, she had bright eyes, a perky nose and long black hair. Her constant smile always reached her eyes.

Rosy is fromPakistan, she came to school with her husband and unlike the rest of us instead of living in the dorm she lived in a small apartment off campus. Her world combining school and household seemed so alien at times to me, but the seductive comfort of her cooking drew me in. She had no dearth of samplers on her small table, so she often cooked her food, community style. Her dishes were hearty robustly spiced stews, comforting curries and several other one pot dishes. She taught me how to let the rice rest, before serving a pilaf to allow the rice to, “bloom”. She also introduced me to the black cardamom. This was a new spice to me, not used a lot in my mother’s kitchen but I learnt to love its husky smoky taste.

We often completed assignment together, nourished by the simple comfort of her meals, we also chatted and shared many a vision of the future together.

After graduation, I connected with Rosy, over facebook in the last year and learnt that she had two beautiful boys (now in their teens), she spent the rest of her time teaching and in just the past year she and her husband has started a new restaurant. His family was in the hospitality business, but she had always wanted to branch out to something smaller and more personal and it was nice to see that she had been able to accomplish that.

I share with you a one-dish recipe that is inspired by some thing she used to cook quite often. A hearty rice dish that was a one dish meal, enriched with her black cardamoms and complete with a generous dose of butter. It might be argued that you might add clarified butter to this, but back then in a graduate school setting that might be a novelty. She added chunks of fish (canned sardines) to this recipe, it is still my go to comfort food. If I am in a real rush I use canned sardines. I have also added Vidalia onions as a finishing touch, and through in the diced potatoes that my mother adds to her fish pilaf.

Comfort One Dish Fish Pilaf

Comfort Chickpea and Fish Pilaf - Memories of Black Cardamom
Author: 
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6-8
 
Ingredients
  • cup oil
  • 1 and ½ teaspoons turmeric
  • 1 large potato, peeled and diced
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon grated ginger
  • 11/2 cup basmati rice, washed and dried
  • 1 cup cooked chickpeas
  • 1 eggplant cut into small pieces
  • 1 teaspoon cumin powder
  • 1 teaspoon coriander powder
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 2 black cardamoms
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns, coarsely ground
  • 2 and ½ cups broth
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 sweet Vidalia onion, sliced
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 cans of oil packed sardines, drained and cut into pieces
  • 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
Instructions
  1. Heat half the oil on medium heat, in a large cooking pot.
  2. Rub the potatoes with ½ teaspoon of turmeric.
  3. Sprinkle with ½ teaspoon of salt and set aside.
  4. Add in the remaining oil and add the onions and sauté for about 6 to 7 minutes, until the onions soften and begin to turn golden on the edges.
  5. Add in the ginger and the basmati rice and fry the rice for 3-4 minutes.
  6. Add in the chickpeas and eggplant and mix well.
  7. Add in the cumin powder, coriander powder, bay leaves, cardamom and black peppercorns.
  8. Add in the broth with the remaining turmeric and bring it to a simmer.
  9. Cover and cook on medium heat for 20 minutes.
  10. In the meantime, heat the butter and sauté the Vidalia onion, until soft and beginning to turn golden.
  11. Remove the cover of the pot and add in the fried potatoes, onions and the tomatoes and stir well but gently so as to not break the rice grains.
  12. Lower the temperature and cook for 3 more minutes.
  13. Turn off the heat and mix the sardines.
  14. Keep the dish covered for 10 minutes before serving.
  15. Garnish with the cilantro and serve.

Prep Time: 20-25 minutes

Cook Time: 25-30 minutes

Serves 6-8

 

Ingredients

 

½ cup oil

1 and ½ teaspoons turmeric

1 large potato, peeled and diced

Salt to taste

2 onions, thinly sliced

1 teaspoon grated ginger

11/2 cup basmati rice, washed and dried

1 cup cooked chickpeas

1 eggplant cut into small pieces

1 teaspoon cumin powder

1 teaspoon coriander powder

3 bay leaves

2 black cardamoms

1 teaspoon black peppercorns, coarsely ground

2 and 1/2 cups broth

2 tablespoons butter

1 sweet Vidalia onion, sliced

2 tomatoes, chopped

2 cans of oil packed sardines, drained and cut into pieces

1 tablespoon chopped cilantro

 

Method of Preparation

 

1. Heat half the oil on medium heat, in a large cooking pot.

2. Rub the potatoes with ½ teaspoon of turmeric.

3. Sprinkle with ½ teaspoon of salt and set aside.

4. Add in the remaining oil and add the onions and sauté for about 6 to 7 minutes, until the onions soften and begin to turn golden on the edges.

5. Add in the ginger and the basmati rice and fry the rice for 3-4 minutes.

6. Add in the chickpeas and eggplant and mix well.

7. Add in the cumin powder, coriander powder, bay leaves, cardamom and black peppercorns.

8. Add in the broth with the remaining turmeric and bring it to a simmer.

9. Cover and cook on medium heat for 20 minutes.

10. In the meantime, heat the butter and sauté the Vidalia onion, until soft and beginning to turn golden.

11. Remove the cover of the pot and add in the fried potatoes, onions and the tomatoes and stir well but gently so as to not break the rice grains.

12. Lower the temperature and cook for 3 more minutes.

13. Turn off the heat and mix the sardines.

14. Keep the dish covered for 10 minutes before serving.

15. Garnish with the cilantro and serve.

 

Roasted Sweet Potato and Chickpea Salad

In our attempt to attribute flavors to the mundane, we have assigned the days of the weeks various characters. Monday is the dark one, since it usually hails the start of routine, school or work and sometimes both. The quiet one is Tuesday, that finds its place between Monday and Wednesday, with Wednesday helping us move far enough from Monday to be of a nice and neutral flavors. Thursdays is the active one, when we are bracing and trying to get ready for the weekend and Fridays, well they are the laid back one because most people are ready to forgive and wait for Saturday which is the balanced one. It is the weekend day after the week and before Sunday. As for Sundays, I think they are the reflective day, since they tend to reflect the mood of the weekend or the week that is approaching.

 

Well, having just said that there is really nothing laid back about today, despite the fact that it is a Monday. We begin the kick of for the kid’s school fundraiser. Since, I am drafted with the money I shall be spending the evening counting $10 bills for the registration. However, all things considered it could be worse. I also love the idea of the event. In an age where we are all paying just a little bit of attention to our eating habits and health initiatives I think a kid fundraiser that encourages activity is a great idea.

 This recipe was something that I cooked earlier last week and we loved the sparkling flavors of the sweet potato with the tangy lime.

Roasted Sweet Potato and Chickpea Salad with Indian Spices

 This recipe is a lightly seasoned variation of an Indian styled road side salad. Now, to be fair I have not tasted the salad, but it has been vividly described to me by my sister-in-law Hema.

 As with everything in life, I have added my embellishments, the biggest change here is to lightly roast the sweet potatoes rather than to fry them. I like the fact, that this allows the sweetness of the sweet potatoes to mellow into a nice dense perfection, but avoids the oil and darkness of color that deep frying does to these recipes. While I like to serve the salad right away, it can actually be made ahead and kept for a day and served later, in fact this allows the flavors to deepen.

 Prep Time: 20-25 minutes

Cook Time: 35 minutes (mostly unattended)

Serves 6

 Ingredients

 2 large sweet potatoes (about 11/2 pounds)

5 tablespoon oil (Preferably an EVOO)

2 teaspoons whole cumin

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

½ cup cooked chickpeas

1 red onion, cut into a fine dice

1-2 lemons (about 5 tablespoons juice)

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

 Method of Preparation

 1. Peel and cube the sweet potatoes.

2. Heat the oven to 350 degrees

3. Spread the sweet potatoes on a baking sheet and drizzle with 3 tablespoons of the oil.

4. Cook the potatoes in the oven for about 20 minutes, until soft and lightly crisped but not too brown.

5. In the meantime, place the cumin and the black pepper on a small skillet and roast until it darkens and then grind to a smooth powder in a spice or coffee grinder.

6. Remove the sweet potatoes and place in a mixing bowl.

7. Add in the chickpeas, red onions and the powdered spices and toss well.

8. Add in the remaining oil and lemon juice and mix well.

9. Mix in the cilantro and serve immediately

 

 

 

Roasted Sweet Potato and Chickpea Salad
Author: 
Recipe type: Salad
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6
 
A simple and healty chaat style salad that is perfect for the upcoming warmer weather.
Ingredients
  • 2 large sweet potatoes (about 11/2 pounds)
  • 5 tablespoon oil (Preferably an EVOO)
  • 2 teaspoons whole cumin
  • teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • cup cooked chickpeas
  • 1 red onion, cut into a fine dice
  • 1-2 lemons (about 5 tablespoons juice)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
Instructions
  1. Peel and cube the sweet potatoes.
  2. Heat the oven to 350 degrees
  3. Spread the sweet potatoes on a baking sheet and drizzle with 3 tablespoons of the oil.
  4. Cook the potatoes in the oven for about 20 minutes, until soft and lightly crisped but not too brown.
  5. In the meantime, place the cumin and the black pepper on a small skillet and roast until it darkens and then grind to a smooth powder in a spice or coffee grinder.
  6. Remove the sweet potatoes and place in a mixing bowl.
  7. Add in the chickpeas, red onions and the powdered spices and toss well.
  8. Add in the remaining oil and lemon juice and mix well.
  9. Mix in the cilantro and serve immediately

Red Lentils and Caramelized Onions

 

Red Lentils are probably one of the simplest and most versatile creations in my pantry. Their simplicity rests in their ease of creation, and the fact that I do not have to think about anything when I cook them. Red lentils are predictable, and they cook quickly. They melt into the smooth buttery smoothness that I can count on.

 

Today, was about simplicity and savoring simple moments. I was attending my son’s first grade concert. This was the second first grade concert and possibly the third and fourth concert that I had attended through Deepta and Aadi’s school years. Any of these events predictably entailed the mad dash of technology assessment, the right camera, sometimes carrying both cameras, getting frustrated since the husband had long decided that this was not his domain.

 

This morning, I decided, no camera!!! Not even the phone camera! I was leaving my phone in the car.

 

I was going to sit and watch the performance, and that was it. The fact that I had gone through this experience before helped in weighing and deciding on my options. I always think that is one of the advantages the younger child tends to have, is the advantage of relaxed parents.

 

I walked in to a crowded room. For a change, I did not care where I sat as long as I could see my son Aadi’s smiling face. I gracefully sat in a corner seat. I did not have to be a part of the frenzy of tripods, cameras and the myriad people squeezing to fit my device in. The program began. Seven songs, covering pieces about the ocean, the kids were dressed in shades of green and sea green or blue. A smart way to get the St Patrick’s colors to do double duty.

 

I watched the energy, and the smiling parents unconstrained by a mechanical viewfinder. I was able to see the emotions and atmosphere of the entire room, rather than viewing this through the filters of a camera lens, peering and adjusting to get the best view of my son. I savored watching my son as a part of the entire environment. I watched the teachers anxiously lip syncing words and gesturing actions to the children. I absorbed the smiling faces of wonder of the parents and the children singing and moving rhythmically to their well practiced songs.

 

The news this week, seemed to consist of too many stories of constrained potential. Youth cut short, promises broken. I needed this morning to feel renewed. I know, I shall not have any tangible memories of the concert in the form of video clips or pictures. I also know the feeling of simple fulfillment that I found at the concert will permanently find its place in a corner of my heart and stay there for ever.

 

It will be not unlike this simple dish of lentils, finished to buttery mellow perfection complete with the finish of caramelized onions. This dish never fails to bring the taste of childhood to my table.

Orange Lentils with Caramelized Onions

Mooshoor Dal

This is basic comforting homey orange lentils. I love this on a snowyNew Yorknight and love to have this over steaming white rice and mashed potatoes and bitter melons as soon as I visit my parents. It is calming and good for both the body and soul.

To get this recipe to work and complete in the mentioned time, it does need attention to sauté and brown the onions. It is important to start the browning process simultaneously with simmering with the orange lentils.

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 25 to 30 minutes

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients

½ cup orange lentils

3 cups of water

¾ teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon salt

3 green chilies, slit halfway lengthwise

4 tablespoons oil

1 medium very thinly sliced red onio

Method of Preparation

  1. Place the lentils and water in a cooking pot. Place the pot on medium heat.
  2. Add in the turmeric, salt and the green chilies and bring to a simmer.
  3. Lower the temperature to low to continue cooking until the lentils and nice soft and smooth.
  4. The liquid should be nice and smooth and fairly thick.
  5. While the lentils are cooking, heat the oil in a small wok on medium low heat for about 1 minute until fairly hot.
  6. Add in the onions and begin cooking until the onions soften. Continue cooking until it begins to turn softly golden and finally crisp and golden. This process takes some time and needs care during the final five minutes, to ensure that the onions brown but do not burn.
  7. Gently pour the oils and the onions into the lentils and stir well.
  8. Serve with rice or a bread of your choice.
 

 

Dal Vada – Lentil Fritters

There are many things that I have gotten used to over the course of more than half my life in the Northeast, but really cold weather is not one of them. In winter, I retreat into my shell and indulge in activities like cooking, reading, knitting, and did I say cooking?

My hibernation phase also deprives me of the little nuances of nature that I count on for daily inspiration, making the advent of spring, warmer and more pleasurable.

 

This week has been a predictably long one however I have been nurtured, nourished and inspired by the advent of spring. Not major changes, just small things like the two robins dancing about as I paused at the stop sign on the way to morning ride to the station. Enjoying the vestiges of evening light, before the orange sun sets just in time to capture the corner crocuses and possibly the highlight of this week, is getting these daffodils before they opened and bloomed. Less that two minutes of time, but not even a few hours too soon, since we I returned home in the evening, they had bloomed in all their glory. It is these small triumphs that make the interaction with nature meaningful.

 

In the vein of small triumphs, there is also small mini getaways, right here at home. Sometimes alone, sometimes with the husband a little picnic. A few days back this was about crisp lentil and onion fritters (vadas) and a great glass of wine. These vadas are lighter than some I have made, lovely crisp addictive texture. You can actually reuse the leftovers (there are rarely any) to make a curry.

Crisp White Lentil and Onion Fritters

 These simple fritters are almost everything that one can hope for in a snack, and if I did not fry them, I would delete the word almost. They get done in a flash, crisp, spicy, tasty, versatile, vegan and gluten free.

 A simple concoction carried over from my childhood, these fritters work for me on busy evenings, simple events with a wine on the side and the left over fritters can actually be tossed into a light curried sauce.

 I use a good grape seed or light olive oil for frying them and a nice wide frying pan, which allows me to complete them in two batches. I have offered this recipe with black lentils, but they can be made with yellow split moong lentils as well. The consistency is important and it should be a paste not a batter. One can add some chickpea flour to the batter if you feel that you have added too much water.

 Prep Time: 2hours (mostly for soaking the lentils)

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Makes 15 medium sized fritters

 Ingredients

 ¾ cup black lentils

Water for soaking the lentils

½ cup water for grinding the lentils

3 pods of garlic

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon turmeric

½ teaspoon cumin seeds

2 green Serrano chilies, very finely chopped

1 red onion, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon fresh thyme

1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro

1 cup oil for frying

Chopped baby spinach to garnish

 Method of Preparation

 1. Wash the lentils well and soak in water for at least 2 hours. It does not hurt to soak them longer.

2. Drain and rinse the lentils and place in a blender, with ½ cup water.

3. Add in the garlic pods, salt and turmeric and grind to a smooth paste, the consistency of this should be a smooth, somewhat wet paste rather than a batter.

 4. Place the paste into a mixing bowl and add in the chilies, onions, thyme and cilantro and mix well.

5. Heat the oil in a flat frying pan, for about 2 to 3 minutes on medium heat. Test the temperature with a small drop of the mixture, it should sizzle to the top.

6. Add about 2 tablespoons of the mixture in a few spaces, spreading them to allow enough room to let the fritters fry without overcrowding each other.

7. Fry them for about 3-4 minutes on each side until a nice shade of golden.

8. Drain on paper towels.

9. Arrange on a serving platter and toss with the spinach leaves before serving.

 On a note of trivia, I have often wondered where the term spring fever came from. Chances are most of us want to step outside and walk, run or even sit outdoors just to enjoy the extra sunlight that the evening offers. So logically, this is bound to make us healthier rather than cause any fever.

 

Dal Vada - Lentil Fritters
Recipe type: Appetizer
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 8
 
Ingredients
  • cup black lentils
  • Water for soaking the lentils
  • cup water for grinding the lentils
  • 3 pods of garlic
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • teaspoon turmeric
  • teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 2 green Serrano chilies, very finely chopped
  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro
  • 1 cup oil for frying
  • Chopped baby spinach to garnish
Instructions
  1. Wash the lentils well and soak in water for at least 2 hours. It does not hurt to soak them longer.
  2. Drain and rinse the lentils and place in a blender, with ½ cup water.
  3. Add in the garlic pods, salt and turmeric and grind to a smooth paste, the consistency of this should be a smooth, somewhat wet paste rather than a batter.
  4. Place the paste into a mixing bowl and add in the chilies, onions, thyme and cilantro and mix well.
  5. Heat the oil in a flat frying pan, for about 2 to 3 minutes on medium heat. Test the temperature with a small drop of the mixture, it should sizzle to the top.
  6. Add about 2 tablespoons of the mixture in a few spaces, spreading them to allow enough room to let the fritters fry without overcrowding each other.
  7. Fry them for about 3-4 minutes on each side until a nice shade of golden.
  8. Drain on paper towels.
  9. Arrange on a serving platter and toss with the spinach leaves before serving.

Coconut Carrot Date Halwa for Holi

As we welcome spring, with the festival of colors, I cobble together this post with a grudging acknowledgement to the better or other half. Early this morning, the husband woke me up, or rather sounded his alarm for an early morning departure. This departure was him leaving for a short business trip. The week was long and exhausting enough already, facing the evening routine alone did not really help the equation. The only highlight of the day was that I was able to work from home, in relative quite and peace.

I went to our town hall to renew the train station permit and realized that my car registration had expired. The lovely lady at the town clerks office, simply told me that I must have my papers at home and that I should fax them to her. Well, after I dodge the police and brave the DMV lines tomorrow, that it. I spent the rest of the afternoon taking my daughter to the doctor, feeding them dinner, working though the moon log and other homework and at the end of the evening I am now too exhausted for even my glass of wine.

I guess, busy and exhausting as the whole parenting deal seems, it is much harder doing it alone. If you are wondering how I made time to make a full-fledged halwa in the midst of all this, I have to confess that I did not. This recipe is a vegan version of the traditional carrot or gajar halwa that I made on a whim, on valentine’s day. I was quite amazed at how well it turned out. I was just looking for the opportune time to post this recipe on my blog. I have lately been making a conscious, effort to actually do meatless meals once or twice a week. Exploring vegan recipes is a part of that effort. Several of the recipes that I have classified as vegan are just that without additional effort and then there are some such as this one, which I have created simply to challenge myself.  I was quite thrilled at how well this halwa turned out, without any ghee or milk. It has almonds and coconut milk instead to compensate and add a lovely dose of richness.

Khajur Gajar Halwa – Carrot and Date Pudding with Coconut and Cardamoms

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 2 hours (mostly unattended)

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients

6 medium sized carrots, peeled

1 can of light coconut milk (about 1 and ½ cups)

6 green cardamoms, bruised

½ cup of dates, seeded and cut into small pieces

1/3 cup powdered jaggery or raw cane sugar

½ cup of coarsely ground almonds (can be a mixture of almonds and pistachios)

 

Method of Preparation

 

1. Place the carrots in a food processor and process until finely chopped.

2. Place the coconut milk in a wide heavy bottomed pan hard anodized pan and bring to a simmer.

3. Add in the processed carrots and the cardamoms and simmer on medium low heat for 1 and ½ hours. About halfway through the process you will need to add in one cup of water. The objective is to cook the carrots until they are soft and have the consistency of a chunky puree.

4. Add in the powdered jaggery or sugar and the dates and cook until the jaggery or sugar is completely melted and absorbed for about 5 minutes.

5. Stir in the powdered almonds and serve warm.

 

Cumin – Know Your Spices

 Cumin is often one of those spices that I pack with me on vacation. Well, we tend to take vacations, where I can cook. After all, nothing beats the joy for me of cooking after a long day outdoors. Yes, I am crazy that way..

Cumin however is one of the most versatile spices in the Indian pantry. It is use both as whole seeds for starting a dish or in the powdered form. Cumin is called Jira in Hindi or Jire in Bengali. I strongly recommend making your own powdered cumin, once you try the strenght and robustness of flavor in freshly ground cumin, you shall not go back to store ground.

To powder your own cumin, dry roast about 2 tablespoons of the whole seeds for one or two minutes, you shall inhale the seductive smoky smell of the spice roasting and it will turn a shade darker. Do not overroast it for every day use, however certain recipes do call for a bolder roasted cumin variety.

Place the toasted cumin in the spice or coffee grinder and grind to a fine powder. This powder can be stored in a small tight lidded jar, and will retain its flavor for well over 6 months.

Cumin is used in an assortment of international cuisines such as mexican food and I often make fusion dishes such as Indian variations of pasta with cumin.

 

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