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!

4 Things you wouldn’t have heard about vegan cuisine a decade ago

Thursday’s issue of the Globe and Mail featured an article titled ‘Vegan cuisine moves into the mainstream,’ discussing the rise of vegan and vegetarian restaurants in Toronto and Vancouver.

Here are 4 statements from the article you probably wouldn’t have heard a decade ago:

1. “Chef Justin Cournoyer, Owner of Toronto’s Actinolite restaurant, says offering vegan dishes is part business, part simply being on track with the trend toward vegetable-centric cooking.”

2. “I think there’s a new understanding that you can be a meat eater and still really enjoy vegetarian food.”

3. “Lyons says diners with increasingly sophisticated palates are viewing vegan food as one more choice on their checklist of cuisines alongside international options like Indian or Japanese.

4. “Best of all is how it tastes…this is flavourful food that just happens to be animal free.”

What’s changing in the landscape, is that those who are meat-free are starting to see some solid alternatives on the menu; dishes that are delicious and filling.

Carnivores might chime in and say ‘hey be grateful that there’s an option for you on the menu.’ Grateful as I am, I would argue that when salad, pasta or a veggie burger becomes the only offer on the table, after some time it ceases to be a choice.

The shift we’re seeing is that chefs have begun to realize that non meat eaters too want thoughtful tasty food options (sound the alarms!) For those of us who prefer to frequent locally-owned restaurants, we need chefs to acknowledge and respond to this changing landscape. So this shift is a pretty big deal!

Do you have a favourite restaurant in your locale that offers awesome meat-free fare? Share it below! In an effort to celebrate the wonderful restaurants in my locale and on my jaunts, I’m going to tag them under the theme ‘Veg Around Town.’ Look out for the sign below!

Celebrating yummy cuisine wherever we find it!
Celebrating yummy cuisine wherever we find it!

Cooking with Soul

Background

It was 2009, on one of my ritual jaunts to Heidi Swanson’s beautiful blog when I was [digitally] introduced to Bryant Terry. On that particular day I was immediately intrigued by the idea of making vegan Jamaican patties, and Terry’s recipe did not disappoint. Softly spiced veggies bubbling out of a golden buttery pastry anyone?

Bryant Terry’s cookbook Vegan Soul Kitchen made me reimagine the way I had been brought up to think about “soul food,” challenging the notion that it required mounds of fatty & sugary ingredients. What a revelation! Terry educated me on the cooking habits and flavour combinations of the African diaspora while simultaneously inspiring me to be a conscious cook.

On a personal note, a unique element of this cookbook is the fact that Terry includes a musical selection for every recipe. And why not? There are countless soundtracks that go into the curation of a good meal. If you’ve seen any of the recipes on this site you’ll notice that I’ve happily borrowed this habit from Terry, and include “What I’m Listening To” with each recipe.

Soul Food in 2014

Fast forward 5 years, this past September I was thrilled to see Bryant Terry in action for the first time at the annual Toronto Vegetarian Food Festival. In the afternoon he delivered a compelling talk on food justice as well as the work he has done to introduce youth to sustainable food systems. As an author, chef, and food activist, it’s clear that Terry is equal parts culinary connoisseur and community leader.

Vegan Chef & Food Activist Bryant Terry speaks at the 2014 Toronto Vegetarian Food Festival
Vegan Chef & Food Activist Bryant Terry speaks at the 2014 Toronto Vegetarian Food Festival

In the evening I was delighted to catch a food demonstration & book signing with the renowned chef. As he prepared his Tofu Curry with Mustard Greens from his newest cookbook Afro Vegan, he simultaneously introduced the audience to some of his food philosophies.

The next day I recreated the dish, improvising with ingredients I had on hand (chard instead of mustard greens; smooth peanut butter; dry coriander). I completely forgot to take a picture of the stew, as my judgment was clouded by the aromas that were wafting out of my dutch oven.

I already have a favourite from this cookbook that I look forward to telling you about soon! Until then, I challenge you to make this soup, and not sneak spoonfuls of it as it cooks; it’s tough! This curry has so many dimensions of flavour that each bite offers something new.

Hosting vegetarians or vegans for dinner and don’t know what to make? This recipe is gold. If you’re trying to make a dish that will impress the masses, Terry’s Tofu Curry is a clear winner with its endless layers of taste.

Try it, bookmark it, enjoy it!

Afro Vegan2