Diwali Dal!

Happy Diwali and New Year to those who are celebrating!
diwali tealights

This year, I had planned two days worth of yummy Indian meals for the habibi and I. This is a big deal for me because, although I absolutely love Indian food, I don’t make it often enough. The truth is, no matter how long I spend, or what I do, it just never tastes like my Dad or Mom’s food. Yup! Dad cooks too. And he’s a total badass in the kitchen so it’s pretty hard to create a satisfying Indian meal without feeling like it just doesn’t taste like home. How many of you out there share the same issue?

When it comes to Thai, Mexican, Italian, Chinese and North American food, I feel pretty confident (perhaps too confident). Probably because I never grew up in a Thai, Mexican, Italian Chinese or traditional North American household. But Indian food (and I completely recognize that “Indian” food is sort of like saying “European” food- it’s a bit nonsensical because it’s so wide-ranging) is still tough for me.

chana dal spinach

Anyway, I digress. The two days of Indian fare didn’t actually happen because of some unexpected health issues. But I was still determined to make something to mark the holiday, so I scrambled to think of an abridged and simple menu. In the end we had gorgeous spicy jeera aloo, tofu makhani and spinach chana dal.

chana dal

Chana dal is hands down my favourite type of dal, typically served in Punjabi cuisine. It’s hearty and doesn’t fall apart easily when cooked, unlike its cousins masoor dal or yellow mung dal. Chana dal is made from splitting small brown chick peas, but takes on its own unique set of flavours. You don’t necessarily find this dal on a restaurant menu, so it’s quite special when you’re able to find it, or better yet, prepare it at home!

chana dal spinach indian food saladforbreakfast

Chana dal with spinach

What I’m listening to:

Raag Des, Pandit Shivkumar Sharma

Ingredients:

1 cup chana dal rinsed & soaked overnight
4 cups water
2 tomatoes, chopped
½ tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt
2 green chilies split in the middle
1 T oil, ghee or butter of choice
1 t cumin seeds
1 red onion, chopped
5 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 T grated finely ginger
2 handfuls baby spinach
1 T coriander powder
1 t garam masala
Salt to taste
¼ cup fresh coriander

What I do:

The two main stages to making this dal, and most North Indian dals are (1) cooking the dal and (2) “tempering” the seasoning on the side and adding it once the dal is cooked.

So first, drain your dal after it’s been soaking and add it to a pressure cooker along with the water, tomatoes, turmeric, salt and green chilies. All pressure cookers are not created equal, but with mine I close the pressure cooker lid and turn the heat to high. Once the cooker whistles 3 times, I turn it off and leave it to the side to cool down.

In a fry pan, heat oil on medium heat. When it becomes hot add cumin and allow it to fry for one minute. Add onions next, and cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally so that they don’t burn. Add ginger and garlic and baby spinach and stir for 1 minute. At this point, if your pan looks a bit dry you can add another tsp of oil. Then, add coriander powder and stir for 20 seconds.

Add half of the tempering mixture to the dal along with garam masala, and heat over medium heat. Add the remaining tempering ingredients as well as coriander right before you serve.

Enjoy!

Cauliflower “Rice” is Nice

cauliflower rice salad for breakfast

…Yeah! I totally did!

cauliflower rice salad for breakfast

Behold! The curvaceous cruciferous we refer to as cauliflower. I’m hoping this gorgeous specimen will distract you from my mild digital absence.

I’ve missed you all! The past few months there have been some changes so I haven’t had a chance to blog as frequently. But as things begin to calm down, I’m aching to share some treats that I’ve been working on.

Cauliflower is all the rage at the moment, and rightly so. It’s deliciously versatile, be it mashed, grilled, baked, steak-ed out, or ‘riced’. I don’t know about you, but I’ve definitely eaten more than my fair share of comfort foods the past few months year. And my body is telling me that it’s time to come back into line.

Lucky for me the end of winter is also an encouraging time to break away from this trance and get into gear. As I fill my plate these days I’m looking for fun ways to increase my vegetable intake and decrease my reliance on carbs. So you can imagine the thrill I felt when I saw a picture of cauliflower “rice”. It’s easy and yummy.

cauliflower rice salad for breakfast food blog

You take a whole head of cauliflower, chop it into florets, and throw the florets into a food processor.

cauliflower rice salad for breakfast food blog

Pulse until they look like ‘rice’ and no large bits remain. If you’re ricing the whole cauliflower, you’ll need to do this in a few batches so the cauliflower has space to dance around and chop. From here you can either heat and eat (my preferred method of consumption), freeze, or serve it straight up. Enjoy!

cauliflower rice salad for breakfast

Some helpful notes:

  • With my large head of cauliflower, I got about 7 cups of rice.
  • When all the cauliflower was riced, I measured out 2 cups for dinner that night, and froze the rest (for future meals).
  • Though you could eat this rice raw, I prefer to cook it beforehand. I think this helps with digestion, and just tastes better. So I sautéed the cauliflower in a hot pan on medium heat for 3-5 minutes, and served it with some homemade seitan curry. 
  • This doesn’t taste like rice but it’s damn good.
  • It’s possible to grate the cauliflower if you don’t have a food processor. But you might just end up exhausted and hating vegetables by the end of it.

My Grandmother’s Lemongrass Chai

Lemongrass Chai
Lemongrass Chai

My name is Shilpa and I am a chai snob. I’m not sure exactly when and how this happened but I profess that it’s true. This may be the result of growing up in an Indian household: the sound of a mortar and pestle breaking apart whole spices, the smell of freshly grated ginger, the mindful addition of tea to bubbling water, the careful calculation of the water to milk ratio. Ah. That may be it.

I drank chai before I drank cow’s milk*, and I’m willing to bet even before I ate solids.

I come from a strong lineage of what I like to call avid chai architects: those who created their own version of this soul-satisfying tea, but within the confines of “traditional” [Indian] chai ingredients. Namely, milk, water, loose leaf black tea, a decent dose of sweetener, as well as some hint of spice (ginger, fennel, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves). One’s chai is usually influenced by the region of India that one comes from. My ancestral chai architects passed their magic down to my parents, who, lucky for my palate, hail from two very different regions of India. My Mom’s chai has spicy hints of ginger while my Dad’s chai is a fun melange of fennel, cardamom and clove: I would gladly welcome either version in my mug.

For many years my taste buds yearned for a type of chai that I just couldn’t put my finger on. What was that combination that reminded me of my childhood, which comforted me to the bone? One day while visiting my parents, I detected a familiar scent in the air. My Mom poured me a cup of the concoction and the first sip confirmed what my nose was telling me. “Is there lemongrass in here,” I inquired? “Yes,” replied my Mom. “Gosh I feel like I’m in ba’s house when I drink this,” I expressed, and my Mom excitedly said “Ba always made chai with lemongrass!”

This was it- the flavours my taste buds had been missing for years!

My lovely grandmother, or ba as I used to call her, always made this chai. And when I drink it, I can imagine myself sitting in Ahmedabad, India, where she would spend part of the year. Another sip takes me back to her kitchen in Toronto, drinking hot tea together out of saucers. My ba is my favourite chai architect, and this version of chai is an homage to her.

Lemograss chai, or leelee chai, is a staple in the Indian state of Gujarat. You can find chai stalls lining up the streets, where they serve this steamy delight in tiny shot glass portions.

A tea vendor on my recent trip to India
A tea vendor on my recent trip to India

Below, you’ll find my twist, which is just perfect for me. On a chilly day like the one’s we’ve been having lately in Toronto, or on a day when the snow falls in full gusto, like in my hometown of Buffalo, NY, this chai is warm, soothing and damn delightful.

*Of course, the chai I drank as an infant had cow’s milk in it, though.

IMG_1254

The perfect cup of lemongrass chai (leelee chai)

Notes

  1. This makes one generous North American serving of chai.
  2. As with all recipes, it’s vital to use the freshest ginger and lemongrass you can find, as older ginger completely alters the flavour of this chai.
  3. This makes a spicy warm cup of tea. For less spice, add less ginger.
  4. I usually drink this with honey, but it’s great with jaggery, brown sugar, coconut sugar, etc.

What I’m listening to

John Coltrane- In a sentimental mood (on repeat)

Ingredients

1 1/3 cup water

1 T + 1 t grated ginger

1 heaped T fresh sliced lemongrass

1 1/4 t loose leaf black tea (Assam, Darjeeling, or other)

1/2 cup soymilk ( or milk of your Preference)

Dash of cinnamon

1 1/2 t sweetener of choice

What I do

Add your water to a small saucepan and heat on high. As the water heats grate your ginger directly into water and add your lemongrass. When the water begins to boil, add tea leaves, and after 15 seconds add milk. Before the tea comes to a second boil add a dash of cinnamon. Once the tea come to a full second boil, take off the heat, strain into your tea cup, stir in sweetener, and enjoy!

From the top left: tea, cinnamon, ginger, lemongrass
From the top left: tea, cinnamon, ginger, lemongrass
Cutting lemongrass into the near boiling water.
Cutting lemongrass into the near boiling water.
Going...
Going…
IMG_1235
going……..
Gone!
Gone!

Panang-Kissed Pumpkin Soup

pumpkin soup

Have you ever watched that show on the food network called “Semi-Homemade”? During grad school I used to fly back to the States to visit my parents once or twice a year. On those visits you could often find me plopped on the couch, cupping a steamy cup of chai, fully engrossed in The Food Network. During these visits, Giada dared me to create chocolate basil Panini’s, Ina inspired me to use the best quality produce, and Sandra Lee gave me practical advice on cooking at home with a busy schedule.

Today’s recipe made me think of Sandra, as I utilized ingredients I already had on hand to create a silky soup.

The voluptuous pumpkins that I snuck into my previous post, are the main attraction for this soup. Once the pumpkins are roasted, this soup comes together in less time than it would take you to order a pizza. I swear.

photo 3

I roasted the pumpkins on a Sunday (since I already had the oven going for some other items), and was able to easily whip this soup up the next day. I’ve seen a lot of thai-inspired soups on the interwebs; this is the best version I’ve ever tried. And who doesn’t love orange-hued foods in the Autumn?

Panang-Kissed Roasted Pumpkin Soup

What I’m listening to

Ben Webster- “Solitude”

Ingredients

3 cups roasted pumpkin*

2 cups vegetable broth

1 ½ T Panang Curry Paste

What I do

Put pumpkin & broth into a blender and blend until smooth. All curry pastes are not created equally, and all people don’t have the same tolerance for heat. Add the curry paste one teaspoon at a time to the blender and blend until smooth. I used about 1 ½ Tablespoons for the perfect heat & flavour.

Once your soup is blended, gently heat on medium low heat until it bubbles. Serve immediately.

*The abridged version for roasting a pumpkin is to take a medium-sized pie pumpkin, split it in half, de-seed it, rub some olive oil on the flesh, sprinkle it with sea salt, put it face down on a baking sheet, and bake at 350 for 45 minutes or until the flesh is tender. For a more eloquent explanation, check out the fabulous Angela at Oh She Glows!

Easy Veggie Soup

Everyone needs a handful of solid soup recipes in their repertoire. Whether it’s a translucent broth, a hefty stew, a velvety puree, or even a chilled concoction, soups are a year-round comfort.

This is a basic vegetable soup that I make anytime I start getting sniffly, am short on time, or just need some warmth in my belly.

Most people have some version of this lying around; it relies on the flavours of a classic chicken noodle. It’s a great base to build on, or just perfectly satisfying on its own. Customize it to your tastes and needs: feel like some heat? Throw in some more ginger, or crushed red pepper. Don’t have chard lying around? Use another green, or just leave it out.

For this soup, I let the vegetables “sweat” before adding the liquid, which brings out their flavours and adds a touch of sweetness to the final product. I prefer this method to just throwing the veggies in the pot and adding the liquid straight away- that tends to result in bland, sometimes bitter tasting veggies.

For the kitchen ninjas out there, this soup might not challenge your skill set, but I think there’s a certain solace in preparing the most basic recipes. So here we go:

photo
Easy Veggie Soup

Easy Veggie Soup

What I’m listening to

Miles Davis- Kind of Blue (Side A for chopping, Side B for cooking & stirring)

Ingredients

½ T your preferred cooking oil

2 medium onions, chopped

4 carrots, chopped

4 celery stalks, chopped

2-3 T garlic, minced (about 3 medium sized cloves)

1 T grated ginger

2 dry bay leaves

1 t dried thyme

1/2 t dried sage

6-7 cups Vegetable broth

Tofu, crumbled

2 cups swiss chard, chopped and packed

salt & fresh black pepper to taste

What I do

Add oil to a 6 quart stock pot/dutch oven (whatever you’ve got), and heat on medium heat. Once the oil is hot, add onions, stirring often for 3 minutes. Add the carrots and celery and continue to stir for 4-5 minutes. In this time you should see the vegetables develop a sheen, as they sweat out some of their water. The vegetables shouldn’t brown, so if they look like they are, just lower your heat a bit and continue stirring.

Add garlic, ginger, bay leaves, thyme & sage, and stir for a minute.

Add broth and turn up the heat to medium high. Once the liquid starts to boil, lower the heat and let the soup simmer for 6-8 minutes. It’s important to ensure your soup is on a simmer (as opposed to a rolling boil), otherwise you’ll end up with mushy vegetables. Add crumbled tofu, swiss chard, and let the chard melt in to the soup. At this point taste your soup and season with fresh black pepper and salt as needed. Turn off the heat once the chard has softened.

Eat right away or later. I had it for dinner the first night, ladled over fresh rice noodles….and then for breakfast two days in a row.