Monday, September 12, 2016

Eggplant Does Sweet and Sour, A Great Meatless Anyday Treat

   Every year we plant about four varieties of eggplant and every year we are swamped with eggplant. I grew up eating this vegetable which is a staple in every Italian kitchen, and then when I started cooking Indian food 26 years ago, the transition to eating a lot of eggplant was very easy. Same vegetable, different spices and actually some more efficient and healthier ways of cooking it rather that bathing it in olive oil Italian style.

   Whenever I go out to harvest eggplant I'm always torn as to what sort, what color, what shape to use. This dish actually works with any variety as I used both a Classic Italian style eggplant and a  Japanese eggplant in this dish. So, for convenience sake... grab what's handy it's all good. I also like this dish as it's pretty straightforward and easy to make. This is good for me right now as we've been busy with director and producers notes on our TV pilot, and also most of the cooking I've been doing for my collaboration with the new CocaPlanet, factory and tasting room opening here in Sonoma.

My cooking for them has involved classic French bistro dishes and lots and lots of gluten free and vegan desserts such as this Fig frangipane tart...

...Pear and almond tart...

...Chilled Vegan carrot soup...

...Terrine of pork, chicken and veal with Cognac prunes...


...Apple walnut tart...

...gluten free vegan s'mores...


...Vegan Pavlovas...

   You get the picture....after writing during the week...this is what my weekends are about. So, with that in mind I look for simple Indian dishes to serve at home during the week and this is a traditional eggplant dish, that may very well make your eggplant haters change their minds.

Sweet and Sour Eggplant

Here's What You Need:
3 Tbs oil, I use coconut oil
1 Tbs tamarind paste
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 onion finely chopped
1 shallot finely chopped
anywhere from 1 to 3 serrano chilies minced...I used 2 in this dish
about 1 and 1/4 lbs of eggplant...any variety
1 Tbs ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
salt to taste
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 Tbs jaggery  aka gur....(Indian palm sugar)..or brown sugar light or dark
1/4 tsp garam masala

Here's What To Do:
Wash dry and chop the eggplants diagonally into relatively thin slices, by this I mean a bit less than 1/2 inch thick.

Get your ingredients ready.

Heat the oil in a kadhai or skillet.
When the oil is hot add in the cinnamon stick and cumin seeds.

When they start to sizzle (pretty dang fast) add the chopped onion and shallot.

Cook this until it starts to turn golden and translucent.
After that toss in your minced serranos.
Stir it all around for about 1 minute then remove everything from the pan (onions ,spices, etc) and set them aside in a small bowl.

Add your eggplants to the pan.

Turn the heat up to high or medium high, and cook the eggplant pieces until they're warm then turn down the heat and put a cover on the pan and  cook until the eggplants are soft. This takes about 10 minutes. Check it every now and then, stir and you can add a bit more oil if you need to so that things do not stick.

When the eggplant pieces are soft add the  onion, shallot and spice mixture back in, and stir everything together well...

...then add in the ground coriander, cumin, and salt.

Cover it again, and cook for another 10 minutes.
Finally add in your tamarind paste, and jaggery or brown sugar.

Stir that into the eggplants mixing it together and finally toss in the chopped cilantro.

Cook it all together for another couple of minutes then sprinkle the whole dish with the garam masla and serve it up!

   This goes great with a nice Basmati rice, some lentils or beans if you's also great as a side dish with any American meal. Basically, we had lunch ready in under an hour.

   I love eating from the garden this time of year...I'll be moving on to beets and some of the other things we grow so as not to be ALL EGGPLANTS!  ALL THE TIME! and of course desserts..plenty of those.  Next up, I hit up an old favorite Indian street food dish Kheema and Vada Pav...both the meat and the vegetarian versions coming soon! Follow along on Twitter @kathygori

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 


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