Rye Maitake Strata in Eggplant Sauce

The impulsive purchases from a local Farmer’s Market is transformed to a delectable Savory Bread Pudding, inspired by the Italian Strata. The depth of flavor is from the Rye Batard from the local baker; umami from maitake (hen of the woods) and morel mushrooms from a CSA farmer; je ne sais quoi from baba ganoush (eggplant sauce) from a Mediterranean stand. Simple to slap together with a few more pantry ingredients. Enjoy!

SPECIAL TOOLS:

Blender; Loaf pan, parchment paper.

INGREDIENTS

  • Building Block Layers:
    • 1 maitake mushroom (sliced into 4 steak pieces, 1.5 cm thick, browned on each side on a dry pan for at least 2 minutes)
    • 8 slices of rye batard, each about 3/4 inch thick
  • Flavor base: maitake mushroom crumbs + 4 morel mushrooms diced + 1 quarter onion diced (dry roasted on thick bottom pan, deglazed with a little dry white wine from your cellar)
  • Liquid: 1 cup baba ganoush + 2 cups milk + 3 eggs + 1/4 cup chili EVOO
  • Spices: 2 tsps harissa powder + garlic salt to taste

METHOD

Add all ingredients, except building block layers, in the blender and liquify until smooth.

In a sealable (tupperware box) lay the bread and maitake steaks in alternate layers. Pour the liquid over the layers to cover. Seal the box and let soak overnight or for about 4 hours. Turn the box around for the liquid to penetrate evenly on all siders. Or, soak until all the liquid is absorbed.

Unload onto a parchment paper and transfer with the parchment onto a loaf pan (or any other baking dish of your choice). Bake at 350 F for 1 hr, or until done and lightly browned on top.

Let cool for 10-15 mins. Slice (or spoon).

NOTES, HINTS, TIPS:

  1. The traditional strata uses stale bread and the sauce is usually cheese and eggs to hold it all together. This is very delicious too. I wanted to experiment with alternatives here and it turned out to be a hit!
  2. The one above is a quick one with fresh Baba ganoush from the Farmer’s Market, but you can make your own eggplant sauce. Eggplants are not be frowned on- recall their French elevation, aubergine caviar!
  3. The baking time may depend on the kind of baking dish you use– if you use a large bottom baking pan, it will take a shorter time, so keep an eye on it. The compact loaf pan that I used, takes a slightly longer time.
  4. The parchment paper is both a convenient way of moving the content from the soaking pan to the loaf pan and also helps brown and unmould.

Ramps Rasam

This year Mother’s Day coincided with a sniffles bout (for me). Celebrating seasonal ramps, I cobbled this together to recreate the Southern Indian thin soup- rasam. It turned out as delicious and as cold-busting as the original. Enjoy!

SPECIAL TOOLS:

None.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 bunch ramps: thinly slice and separated the bottoms from the leaves
  • Sputtering base:
    • 2 tbsp oil
    • whole spices: 1 tsp whole mustard+2-3 stalks curry leaves+ 2 red chillies + 1/2 tsp whole black pepper (optional)
  • Ground spices: 1 tsp rasam powder (or sambar powder) + a dash of heeng
  • Flavorings: 1 tbsp tamarind paste (+ optional: 2 cubes of sugar)
  • Veggies: 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 cups water (or, more as per taste)
  • salt to taste
  • Garnish: coriander leaves

METHOD

On medium heat, place the sputter base ingredients till mustard seeds begin to pop. Reduce heat to minimum and add ground spices (so that they dont burn). After a minute or so, add the bottoms of the ramps and let saute for a minute. Then add the tomatoes, turn up the heat to medium and cover and let soften in its own juice (3 mins or so). Add the flavorings and water and salt to taste. Cover. As it comes to a slow simmer, add the sliced tops of the ramp. Cover and turn off heat.

Serve hot, with garnish.

NOTES, HINTS, TIPS:

  1. The use of sambar powder in rasam may shock the purists. But, I have used this in a pinch, and, it has served me well.
  2. Feel free to add other veggies of your choice. Just remember that this is not meant to be a thick soup- so do retain its thin consistency.
  3. Instead of heeng– you could use 2 cloves of garlic, finely minced. Mix it in with the sliced ramp bottoms and follow the above steps.
  4. Lacinato Kale Rasam: Kale instead of ramps. Separate the stalks from the leafy parts. Chop the stalks very fine. Stack and roll the leaves, then chiffonade into thin slivers.

A twist on Pickled Veggies

Inspired by OG Veggies of Island Fin Poké, this marinated dish is stunningly simple to stir up. If you are in the neighbourhood, you must give this place a try– not just for its healthy offerings, but also its warm, cheerful and welcoming owner (who also happens to be a good friend!).

Just a little knife skill and a few stock pantry ingredients is all it takes to whip this pickle up. Enjoy!

SPECIAL TOOLS:

Mandolin or a sharp kitchen knife; Mason jar.

INGREDIENTS

  • Marinade: 1/4 cup soy sauce + 1/4 cup brown rice vinegar + 1 tbsp sesame oil + 1 tbsp hot EVOO
  • Organic Veggies (mandolined or sliced thin):
    • 2 shiitake caps + 1/2 white onion + 1 small zucchini + 1/4 turnip + 1 jalapeno

METHOD

Place the sliced veggies in a mason jar and pour the liquid marinade. Marinade for 24 hours.

NOTES, HINTS, TIPS:

  1. Turn the mason jar around, in intervals, so as to distribute the liquid uniformly around, as much as possible. The marinade is rather strong and so the small amount is enough for the whole jar.
  2. I used hot EVOO– which broke the usual veggie monotony with some heat.

Fermented Rice: Pakhala Salad to Amazake Kheer

March 20 of every year celebrates Pakhala, an unpretentious, fermented rice staple from Eastern India. Fermentation is quite the rage and being home-bound during the pandemic I dove headlong into it– kefir, kombucha, yogurt and the likes. These need starters, so necessitate some discipline to get into a rhythmic cycle (to maintain the microbe/SCOBY robustness).

Pakhala and amazake need no such swaddling! Just mix cooked rice with water and let stand overnight to ferment. Brown rice was used for the main course and Japanese koji rice for the dessert. Absolutely delicious. Enjoy!

Pakhala: Mix plenty of water with leftover cooked rice and let ferment overnight (at approx 110 F). Shown here with side dishes- crushed peanut chutney, crushed flaxseed tortilla chips chutney and snow peas salad (see below).

Amazake: I recently discovered this through “Japanese Superfoods” by Yoshiko Takeuchi. Amazake uses koji rice which is preprocessed rice, i.e., steamed and already inoculated with the starter. Koji rice can be purchased– like any other variety of rice grain– from Japanese grocery stores (or over the internet). Then the fermentation process at home is identical to that of pakahla (at an even warmer temperature of approx 140 F). Amazake turns out to be surprisingly sweet. This is usually served as a drink, but here I serve it as a thin pudding or kheer (see below).

NOTES, HINTS, TIPS:

  1. Pakhala day in India coincides with Winter/Spring here– really not the hottest of times. Nevertheless. An electric fermenter that lets you control the temperature is a good doodad to add to your bag of toys.
  2. Pakhala can be served in two ways. The traditional way is to include some of the fermenting liquid with the rice grains and a little salt to taste and the side dishes, actually on the side.
    Or, as a Rice Salad. Drain the fermenting liquid and mix the side dishes with the rice. Top with diced red onions and serve immediately to retain the crispness of the three side dishes. I owe this salad version to my culturally diverse tasters!
    • Crushed peanut chutney: Coarsely crush 1 cup peanuts with 1 pod of garlic, 1 green chilli and salt to taste. Then mix in 2 tbsp of finely diced onion.
    • Crushed Flaxseed Tortilla Chips chutney: Coarsely crush 1 cup broken chips with salt to taste. Then mix in 2 tbsp of finely diced onion.
    • Snow peas salad: Dethread the snow peas. All this salad takes is some knife skill. Finely julienne. C’est tout.
  3. Amazake kheer: Mix 1/2 cup amazake (rice grains and liquid) with 1/2 cup milk (nut, soy or dairy) and a drop of vanilla (or a dash of cardamom), to tease your palate.
    Shown below are: koji rice, amazake and the amazake-kheer.

Shown below are pakhala and the side dishes:

Incredible Black Garlic Dark Chocolate Truffle

I have been intrigued by the Korean fermented garlic- not only does it turn charcoal black but it mellows the garlic almost beyond recognition. I had earlier noted it tasted like sweet grapes, and many of my friends scoffed in disbelief. Recently my daughter told me about this trendy Manhattan restaurant that has black garlic pudding on its dessert menu. Then there was no stopping me.

Here is an utterly simple treatment of a simple coat of dark chocolate. A technique that ‘a child can master‘ and taste that will blow your palate away. Irresistible and addictive. I am told it’s a health powerhouse too!! Enjoy!!

SPECIAL TOOLS:

A pair of chopsticks; wire-rack for drying.

INGREDIENTS

  • 25 gm dark chocolate bar (or your favorite chocolate bar)
  • 2 black garlic pods
  • Flavoring agent: 1/8 tsp organic ginger powder + 1/4 tsp Baobab powder + 1 tsp brown sugar

METHOD

Makes 12 petite truffles.

Slice each garlic into six pieces and microwave for 30 secs to soften them (they will have the texture of a candied apricot). Mix in the flavoring powder and microwave for another 30 secs.

Break the chocolate bar into pieces and microwave on low power for 1 min in a glass pyrex bowl. Stir vigorously with a pair of chopsticks till smooth and fold in the berries with all the residual flavoring powder. While still warm, place each truffle on parchment on a wire rack. You can smooth out the balls using your hand, as it begins to cool. Let dry on wire rack till set.

NOTES, HINTS, TIPS:

  1. The organic fermented black garlic was ordered online.
  2. Refrigerate to hasten the drying process.
  3. I used ginger-brown sugar; but you can follow the recipe for the mix.

Spirulina Rolls

A page from Rajasthani Bati, another from Chinese Mooncakes, a dab of nutritional blue-green algae and voilà! A superfood roll.

The spirulina powder by itself is reminiscent of the beach, but dressed in the roll is quite neutral. I adapt Moringa Bati here using the the mooncake technique of wrapping dough around the spirulina stuffing. Tastes even better than it looks. Enjoy!

SPECIAL TOOLS:

An oven or just a toaster oven; mooncake stamps.

INGREDIENTS

  • Dry ingredients:
    • 2 cups whole wheat flour (atta)
    • 1/2 tsp salt (to taste) + 1/2 tsp ground pepper
    • Leavener: 1/4 tsp baking soda + 1/4 tsp baking powder
    • 2 cups grated Parmigiano Reggiano + leaves of 2 fresh Rosemary stalks
  • Wet ingredients: 4 tbsp yogurt + little (2-3 oz) water to make a dough
  • 2 tsp Spirulina powder
  • EVOO to brush the mooncake stamp

METHOD

Mix all the dry ingredients and divide into two parts and add the spirulina powder to one. Make two separate doughs using the wet ingredients. Rest the two doughs (one light and the other dark) for 30 minutes.

Divide each dough into 8 portions. Roll the light ball into a thin disc of about 3.5-4 inches in diameter, place the dark ball in the center; wrap the dough around it and place on silicone silpat, crease side down. Similarly make a roll with the dark dough as the wrapper. Make the 8 balls and press with the mooncake stamp.

Bake at 375 F for 15 minutes. Rotate the tray and bake for another 10 minutes. Serve hot.

NOTES, HINTS, TIPS:
  1. The EVOO of the stamp also brushes the rolls with oil. Use the best EVOO you have.
  2. If you don’t have a mooncake stamp, leave them as balls like in the bati (and brush with cold water).