Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The One Where You Deliberately Burn The Food. Eggplant and Peas Char.

Char cooking, Bengali food, eggplant

   This year has been a record year for eggplant at out house. This Spring we put in 4 different varieties and all of them have been putting on quite the show since Summer kicked into gear. Japanese Eggplant, Classic Globes, Thai, and Indian finger eggplants; the garden is bursting. Fortunately, The Indian kitchen is filled with delicious methods of preparing them. One of the most interesting is Char.
  
   There are number of ways of cooking Indian vegetables. "Wet" vegetables, "dry" vegetables, "fried" vegetables, "stuffed" vegetables, but probably the most interesting is the "char" method;  the traditional name is Charcharis. This means deliberately letting your vegetables get a delicate burn, or char. This method of cooking comes from the region of Bengal and involves fairly minimal care since after all you're "burning" the stuff. The trick is not to go too far and set off the smoke alarms, or ruin your pots and pans. Actually had my mom ever been interested in Indian cooking she probably could have mastered this technique with one hand tied behind her back, since char was her go-to food preparation method.
  
  The idea behind char cooking is to let the vegetables simmer gently in their sauce undisturbed, and then let them form a crusty skin on the bottom of the pan, that is then scraped up and mixed with the dish before serving, adding a smoky, open fire flavor to the vegetable and the sauce.
 This is a great dish to cook when you're busy with other things on the stove as it requires minimum overseeing. Of course you can't neglect it too much unless you'd like to meet the fire person of your dreams.

   I started this dish in a clay pot then transferred everything to a Kadhai as I didn't want to risk having a problem with one of my favorite pots since things can really heat up at the end. My recommendation is use a skillet or kadahi to start. So here is a very simple dish, made with a good sized eggplant, a bag of frozen peas, and some simple spices. Now lets get all McGiver on that eggplant.

Eggplant and Peas Char



Here's What You Need:


1 good sized eggplant
2 cups of fresh peas (if you've got them) or One 10z bag of frozen peas defrosted
4 Tbs ghee or butter
1 tsp turmeric
1 and 1/4 tsp salt
1 Tbs crushed coriander seeds
1 and 1/2 tsp for crushed cumin seeds
1 to 3  whole serrano chilies (depending how hot you want to go)
4 stems of fresh cilantro
2 cups of water


Here's What To Do:

Wash your eggplant  and cut it into 1 inch cubes.



Place the eggplant cubes in a heavy skillet or kadhai.


If you have fresh peas put them in now. If you are using frozen ones just leave them out for now and let them defrost.
Crush your cumin and coriander seeds in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle.


 Cut the 4Tbs of unsalted butter or ghee into small pieces and scatter them across the vegetables.


Add all the other ingredients EXCEPT the cilantro and the frozen peas.


I actually started with one large  whole serrano and then added in another a few minutes later.


Then add the 2 cups of water.


Bring all of these ingredients to a boil on a medium heat and let them boil for about 4 minutes.
Turn the heat down to low after that, partially cover the pan with a lid, and let all of this stuff cook for about 30 minutes.
  
Shake the pan every once in a while to stir things up, and don't forget to check and make sure your water is not all dried up. You want to burn this stuff a bit, but not just yet! If you find the water is gone, add a bit more and you may need to turn the temp down a click.
When nearly all the water has been absorbed, add in the frozen peas.


Keep the heat on low (this is where I switched pans) and let stuff fry until you get a crust of the bottom of the vegetables and they start to burn on the bottom. Turn the heat off under the pan and  let things sit for a couple of minutes then take a spatula and take the burned crust and scrape it into the vegetables.


Toss in your cilantro and serve it up!


   The spices simmered in a sauce with the vegetables make for great flavor and the charred crust mixed into the whole thing at the end gives it a cookout flavor. This is a great dish for any Indian or American meal and perfect for a BBQ as a side dish.
  
Coming up next..some Labor Day End of Summer Party Treats and a special offer from The Chaunk for our newsletter subscribers...or sign up and get in on this. Follow along on Twitter @kathygori

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Quick and Easy: Spicy Summer Eggplant Poriyal A Simple Vegan Lunch.

  
   Our garden here in Sonoma is bursting at the seams with all the stuff we planted earlier in the year. I am starting to get overwhelmed with eggplants. I suppose that's what happens when one plants 4 different varieties of the same vegetable. Fortunately Indian cuisine is filled with dishes that star eggplants, so there's no need to repeat anything. The eggplants keep on a coming, so do the Indian recipes.
    
   The eggplants aren't the only prolific thing around here. We've been finishing director's notes for our TV pilot, and I've been working on recipes for the new CocoaPlanet Tasting Room opening soon here in Sonoma. So, there's not a lot of time for fancy-pants cooking. Simple easy and fast are the keys to a weekday lunch at our house, and if it involves eggplant, that's all the better.
   
   We've also been watching an extraordinary Indian cooking show that's currently streaming on Netflix Raja Rasoi Aur Anya Kahaniyaan.


To call it a cooking show is an understatement as it's so much more than that. It's definitely binge worthy with the only warning I'd give... don't watch on an empty stomach. The other day we saw an episode on the cuisine and food history of Tamil Nadu which caused me to dig out some poriyal recipes... specifically ones using eggplant.


I prepared this simple lunch dish of eggplant, tamarind, and coconut served with a spiced Basmati rice. Another great thing... almost everything was straight out of the garden

Kathirikkai Poriyal 


Here's What You Need :
3 cups of cubed eggplant
2 onions halved then sliced thin
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 Tbs vegetable oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 dried red chili
a few curry leaves

You'll also be adding a spice powder

Spice Powder 

Here's What You Need:
4 tsp vegetable oil (I use coconut oil)
1 Tbs coriander seed
3 small dried red chilies
2 tsp urad dal
2 Tbs grated dried unsweetened coconut
I Tbs tamarind
1/4 tsp salt

Here's What To Do:
Heat 2 tsp of vegetable oil in a small skillet.


When the oil is hot add in the coriander seeds, 3 red chilies, and urad dal.


Stir everything around and cook until the spices get fragrant and the dal starts to turn color and darken.
Take everything out of the pan to cool.
Add another 2 tsp of oil to the pan and toast the coconut until it turns golden. (this doesn't take very long so look sharp.)
Add the toasted coconut to the other spices you just roasted  .


Place everything in a spice grinder and grind it up. Stir in the tamarind paste.
Set the Spice Powder aside.
Add 1 Tbs of oil to the same pan you've been using
when the oil is hot add in the mustard seeds, chili, and curry leaves.


When the mustard seeds start to pop, toss in the thinly sliced onions...


...and 1/2 tsp turmeric.
Saute everything for about 3 minutes then add the eggplant cubes...


...1 tsp of salt, and 1/4 cup of water.


Stir everything around well, lower the heat, cover the pan and let things simmer for about 10 minutes. Check on it every once in a while to make sure nothing is sticking or burning.
When the eggplant cubes are tender and the water has been cooked off, sprinkle the dish with the Spice Powder you have made.


Blend it in well.


And serve it up!


Combined with some spiced Basmati rice you've got a great and simple vegan lunch, perfect for Meatless Monday.
  

   The dish is delicious, sweet and spicy and very filling. Working my way through our bumper crop of eggplants never was so easy. This dish can be made using our Indian Spice Kit  from The Chaunk.

Sign up for the free The Chaunk newsletter as we're going to be offering a special deal (among other things)  for our readers later this month.
  
Coming up next, dessert Indian Style and more vegetable adventures. Follow along on Twitter @kathygori

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Staight Out Of The Garden...Peppers In An Almond Cream Curry...But Wait, It's Vegan!

    
   I grew up a working class city kid. My mom who was no great shakes in the kitchen (never preheated an oven, 'cause...why?) had a regular rotation of meals that centered around making the money stretch to payday. As we got closer and closer, the entrees got weirder and weirder. Waffles made with beer or seven up instead of milk,  the same tired piece of meat making an appearance in its' third outfit of the week, pasta, big bags of loose hot dogs, fish sticks on Friday, Rice and Beans, and of course 89 cent boxes of Kraft Mac and Cheese. To this day I cannot eat hot dogs, and it took me years to get around to pasta again. I still have a weakness for Mac and Cheese.

   One vegetable that made regular appearances was The Pepper. The pepper could be chopped up and served with whatever meat was still hanging around,  or it could be stuffed with rice and drenched in tomato sauce. When I got out on my own, I never wanted to see another pepper again, unless it was a poblano and served as chili relleno. Peppers reminded me of things being tight. After a dinner of peppers the next step was "Kathy, get the Iron Box".
  
   The Iron Box meant that after dinner my parents would sit at the kitchen table and place small amounts of money in small white envelopes which had names on them like "doctor" "PG&E" "House". There was even an envelope for paying off my sister's  birth who at that time was 3 years old. They would kid about owing money on us...and perhaps one of us would be repossessed.  The first depiction of a family like mine on TV was Roseanne, and this scene in particular.



So, that's why I hated peppers.
  
   26 years ago when I started cooking Indian food, I was a vegetarian and so was crazy about all sorts of vegetables...except peppers as an entree. The I discovered  the many ways Indian cuisine used peppers, not just for spice and heat, but as the main feature of a dish. I tried cooking some Anaheim chilies and was hooked. The Iron Box was long gone, I was grown up and peppers were delicious when the budget wasn't holding a gun to ones' head.

   When we bought our house in Sonoma, we xeriscaped for the drought, removed the lawn,  built big wooden planter boxes on a drip irrigation system, and started growing vegetables. One of the first things I planted was Anaheim peppers. They can be prepared a variety of ways in Indian cuisine, and this recipe is simple, quick, and makes a great main dish served with spiced Basmati rice. Plus it's vegan, so there's that. Get your Anaheims ready and break out the coconut milk. Peppers are going Uptown!

Anaheim Peppers in Almond Cream Curry


Here's What You Need: 

2 Tbs vegetable oil 
1 medium onion finely chopped
1 shallot finely chopped
1 cinnamon stick
1 Tbs finely chopped fresh ginger
2 Tbs ground almonds
1 Tbs coriander
1 tsp cumin
1 cup coconut milk
1/2 tsp Kashmiri chili
1 lb Anaheim chilies
2 fresh tomatoes
2 Tbs chopped fresh cilantro
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground cardamom


Here's What To Do:

Slit the Anaheim chilies down the middle and remove the seeds.
Rub them with a bit of oil and place them in a microwave-safe bowl.
Microwave them for about 3 minutes, you just want to soften them a bit. ( I do this sometimes with Anaheims and eggplant if I am in a hurry)
Take the softened Anaheims, remove the stems and cut them into slices.


Heat 2 Tbs of vegetable oil in a skillet or kadhai.
When the oil is hot, toss in the onion.
When the onion has started to brown a bit, add in the cinnamon stick, chopped shallot, chopped ginger, ground almonds.


Stir fry this over a medium high heat until the spices and ground almonds begin to darken. This happens pretty fast, about 3 minutes.
Add in the ground coriander, cumin, and Kashmiri chili.


Stir this around for about 15 seconds, then add in the coconut milk.


Bring this to a boil then turn the heat down to low, put a lid on the pan, and let it cook for about 10 minutes.
Check it every now and then to make sure nothing is sticking or burning.
When the mixture has reduced to a thick sauce, pour everything into a bowl and set it aside.
Meanwhile back at the pan.... add another Tbs of vegetable oil and when it's hot toss in the sliced Anaheim chilies.


Turn the heat down and bit and saute them for about 5 minutes.
Cut the tomatoes into 1 inch thick wedges.


When the peppers start to look glazed, toss in the tomatoes.
Stir everything around.


Turn the heat up and saute for another couple of minutes until the tomatoes soften.
Pour the sauce back into the pan.


Lower the heat and continue to cook for another few minutes....make sure nothing is burning.
If it starts to stick or burn you may add a bit of water to keep things moving.
When the peppers are soft but not too limp add in the cardamom and salt.


Once again, stir. Take the pan off the heat, add in another Tbs of coconut milk to smooth things out and serve over spiced Basmati rice.


Sprinkle a bit of cilantro on top of each plate. I happened to have some fresh, raw, shredded coconut so I scattered a bit of that on top also.

 
   This dish was delicious. Not too hot, creamy without any cream and filling. Alan who has never been a vegetarian loved it. He was totally happy with his peppers and never missed any meat. Obviously this Hyderabad classic is going to be a keeper at our house, especially since we have a bumper crop of Anaheim chilies this year!
Coming up next more Indian treats from the garden follow along on Twitter @kathygori 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

A New Winner (Drumroll)



Sadly we never heard back from one of our winners and since it's been over a week, and many emails sent we're choosing a new name.......
so.....
  Our new winner of a lovely Spice Dabba from the good people at GItaDiniUSA

and a Spice Kit from The Chaunk

is
Citlalnahuac@

So, c'mon down..we've sent you an email notifiying you!

Friday, July 8, 2016

Tired Of The Same Old Spuds? Creamy, Spicy, Potatoes Indian Style.

    
   Summer is here in Sonoma in full force. We had a series of super hot days  (fortunately, with cool nights) good for the grapes. It's also been good for everything else we're growing around here. This has been a busy year so far. Working on a new film script, introducing the first phase of  The Chaunk line of Indian spices and grilling rubs, and helping work on the menu for the new CocoaPlanet Chocolate Factory and Tasting Room  that' s going to be opening here in Sonoma very soon.


PS: The  menu is entirely gluten free, as the entire facility will be totally gluten free! See this Cherry Almond Tart? Totally gluten free and less than  1/4 cup of organic sugar in the whole shebang!


And these brownies made from CocoaPlanet chocolate....


And these vegan deep dark truffle  pots de creme topped with gluten-free edible dirt and edible flowers?


Yeah, that's what we're talking about!

   Anyway, man does not live by dessert alone (or so I've been told) and every now and then you've gotta throw some vegetables into the mix, which brings me to the latest product from our garden: organic Yukon Gold potatoes. Potatoes are one of the easiest things to grow...since all one needs are seed potatoes. You know, those potatoes that are kind of old and have eyes popping out all over??? Plant them. Cut them up first into halves or quarters, just so long as each one has an eye or two to start sprouting and BIngo!  In aboout 60 days or so, you've got potatoes.

Fortunately, we had a long rainy winter up here in Wine Country this year and so I had to wait for the rains to taper down before planting my potatoes...but once we had a dry spell into the ground they went.  I harvest the first bunch last week.


I combined them with some of our Anaheim chilies and of course a few tomatoes.


The recipe I'm sharing here doesn't require the tomatoes, so I enjoyed those on their own with  a bit of olive oil. The potatoes and the Anaheims became part of a classic Indian dish  Aloo ki sabzi, or...

Potatoes With Anaheim Chilies

Here's What You Need:
3 yukon gold potatoes
3 Anaheim chilies
1 Tbs vegetable oil (I use coconut oil)
1/4 tsp turmeric
3/4 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp Kashmiri chili powder
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp lemon juice
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 tsp sugar
4 Tbs crushed peanuts
1 Tbs sesame seeds
1 onion finely chopped
salt to taste

Here's What To Do:
Halve and boil the potatoes until they are fork tender, about 15 minutes or so.
Rinse them with cold water to stop the cooking process and set them aside.
Meanwhile, slice the Anaheim chilies into rings.


Peel the cooled potatoes. The skin should slip off easily.


Cut the potatoes into cubes.


Chop the onion finely and set aside.
Heat the vegetable oil in a skillet or kadhai.


When the oil is hot add in the cumin seeds.


When the seeds start to sizzle, add in the chopped onion.


Cook the onion until it becomes soft and translucent then add in  the turmeric, chopped peanuts...


...and sesame seeds.


Stir everything around a bit and then add in the Anaheim chilies...


 ...cumin and coriander.


Saute everything together, until the peppers are softened but still a bit al dente.
Add in the Kashmiri chili...


...and the yogurt mixed with sugar.


Stir everything around on a low heat. You don't want the yogurt to curdle.


Add in the potatoes, and salt to taste.


Stir everything around to blend it well.


When everything is cooked and the potatoes have warmed through and are well covered with the yogurt, take it off the stove and enjoy!


   Creamy, spicy and a tiny bit sweet, this is a great vegetarian accompaniment to any meal. I think it would also work chilled for a cookout.. however, it didn't last long enough for me to try it out that way. The great thing about this dish is it makes up pretty dang fast. Boil your potatoes ahead of time to really get a jump on things. This potato dish is definitely in my meal rotation.

   Coming up next, more Indian dishes, fast and easy because who wants to spend the summer in the kitchen! Follow along on Twitter @kathygori

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