Dalma-Dip

What is an event that one out of eight on planet earth is following, irrespective of the time of day at each location ? The World Cup (soccer).  I am not the one to miss out on such a momentous occasion. I immediately signed up at my favorite watering hole.  It only seemed fit to come up with a fusion dish for such a unifying, fun event.

Inspired by the ubiquitous middle-eastern hummus, I convert a regional Indian dish dalma into a dip to serve with tortilla chips. Dalma is a lentil-based dish from eastern India (Odisha; Bengal; Assam) which is oooh-so mildly flavored without drawing attention away from the staple ingredients.  I used a garam masala from Eastern India, but you can use any other. Garam masala, which literally means “warm spice”, is actually very regional: it is a melange of carefully picked spices (such as cinnamon, cloves, mace, cardamom etc) which not just varies from region to region but also from vendor to vendor, each vying to outdo the next.

Lentil is also touted as a vegetarian’s “meat” and does live up to this reputation. There is a spectrum of Indian lentils much like the Mexican beans. I use the skinned moong here for its creamy consistency. It’s classic use in Indian cooking ranges from dals to fritters (vada) to even desserts (halwa). In case you are horrified to see its use in confectionery, recall that the Japanese anko is simply azuki beans, and all of us have delighted in Japanese pastry sometime in our dining experiences. Yes, red beans that could have been in your chilli or your dessert simply by a flip of the chef’s coin. Oh, the versatility of legumes!

The final touch of the dip comes from the mustard oil (as a dressing) that gives it that unmistakable eastern Indian touch. Enjoy!

dalmaDip
Lentil dip dalma
Special tools:

Pressure cooker, wire whisk.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup skinned moong lentils (yellow) soaked in plenty of water for 1 hour
  • 2 cups of greens (chard) chopped fine -without bruising– and dry-toasted on a skillet or wok for 1-2 minutes
  • 1 large pod of garlic, peeled and crushed
  • a pinch of turmeric powder + a dash of red chilli powder
  • 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • salt to taste
  • 1 tbsp mustard oil or extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)

Method

Place all ingredients, except the garam masala and oil, with just enough water till all  are just immersed and pressure cook till soft. Mix in the garam masala and stir with a wire whisk.  Add the oil when ready to serve.

Serve with flaxseed-soy tortilla or regular tortilla chips.

Notes, hints, tips:
  1. If you dont have a pressure cooker, no worries. Just cook in a large pot till the lentils are soft enough to be mixed.
  2. Use mustard oil if you are brave enough! It is the most widely used oil in the eastern part of India. And, yes, it can be used as a dressing oil.
  3. This treatment of the greens (dry-toasting) not just makes the greens more appetizing but also reduces the amount of salt needed for the dish.  In fact, you can store this in the refrigerator and use in a variety of dishes, from omlette to pilaf to fritters.
  4. The moong lentil can be replaced with any other lentils of your choice.
  5. When the lentil is already soaked (and soft to the bite); then it does not require too much water to cook.

Summer Fruit Rolls

I pay silent homage to different cultures for conjuring up simple but incredible concoctions. Today it is to the rice paper from the Indochina geography or Southeast Asia. Exploiting the starch in the rice to make this paper-thin skin, for rolls and wraps, is an exceptional technique. When dried they store well and transport well. Even available in the food markets in North America- the imprint of the bamboo-weave left on the dry paper skin is indicative of  the confluence of the old traditions with the new.

I always love the summer rolls in the restaurants in the US although this is not as ubiquitous as in Australia and New Zealand: the chefs there have taken to rice-paper-rolling with a vengeance, which is heartening to see.

For a canicular July day,  here is a distracting dessert (or even a sweet healthy snack), fashioned along the irresistible Thai/Vietnamese summer rolls. If you worry about the white rice, note that it is less than a teaspoon of rice per roll!

Special tools:

None.

Ingredients

  • 6 Thai/Vietnamese  rice paper
  • 1 ripe mango, peeled and cut into spears (lengthwise)
  • 1 banana peeled and cut into spears
  • 1/4 papaya, peeled and cut into spears
  • 1/4 cup fresh cherries, pitted
  • 6 mint  or basil leaves
  • Topping or Dipping sauce: 2 tbsp dried mulberries, 1 tsp dried goji berries  soaked in 1/4 cup black cherry rum for one hour

Method

The fruits are cut into spears so the summer roll does not flop around and holds its shape when handled.   Fill a flat bowl (or a shallow frying pan) with warm water straight from the tap. The water should feel  comfortably warm to the fingers. Make a small working station with the flat bowl of warm water on the left, a flat platter in the center and the fillings on the right.

To soften the rice paper, dip it in the warm water for 30 seconds or so. It may turn very limp if left any longer- a timing that you have to adjust to.   Lift up the rice paper from the water with both hands and avoiding any fold overs in this delicate rice paper and place it flat on the center plate.  Place the fruits like a little bundle along the right edge of the rice paper. Fold the edge over it; then fold the other two edges over it. Place the mint leaf flat on the  far end and roll as tightly as you can without tearing up the paper.

Chill the rolls. Serve with the dipping sauce.

Notes, hints, tips:
  1. The paper rolls are available in Asian markets (Thai or Vietnamese).
  2. Mastering the wrapping process is not terribly difficult: you may not be as adept as the street vendor in Bangkok or Hanoi but you can still impress your family and friends.
  3. A non-alcoholic dipping sauce can be made with apple juice with a dash of lime juice and some sweetening honey.
  4. You can use other fruits; just make sure you that there are some that can hold the shape the roll.

White Chocolate Mango

Mango is native to India and cacao to Central America, and today not only are the two grown in a much larger (tropical) belt  than their places of origin but also familiar and accessible globe-wide.  In my day job of dabbling with genomics, I came across mango researchers from Australia and I mused to myself “Really ?”.

White chocolate is technically the cacao butter. Thanks to very creative processing they are available in most supermarkets in the baking section as sweetened morsels.

You will find that the most ardent mango fans are Indian– the keen eyes of  some stand-up comedians are also picking up on that. These gourmands are the purists with a dont-mess-with-that-already-superdelicious-fruit attitude.  Yet I dared to try my concoction on one such aficionado, who doesn’t hold his brutal criticisms back.  I am happy to report that this received a massive endorsement and I share the recipe with you.

 

Special tools:

Food processor, steaming basket

Ingredients

  • pulp of 4 ripe medium sized ripe mangoes
  • 1/2 cup white chocolate morsels
  • 2 tbsp lime juice
  • a pinch salt

Method

Put all the ingredients in a food processor.  Process for 1-2 minutes. The white chocolate morsels will shatter but not blend completely. It is quite alright since it will melt in the steaming process.

Pour into (three)  individual ramekins or cazuelas.  Do not over-fill  since it rises a little in the cooking process.  Steam for 10 minutes.

Serve warm with a garnish of a few chocolate morsels.

Notes, hints, tips:
  1. I used the Mexican Ataúlfo mango in the picture above.  This is a very sweet cultivar, also called the champagne mango. But feel free to use any other sweet variety that you can lay your hands on.
  2. Tastes good even chilled and also at room temperature (to compete with a fresh mango!).
  3. For steaming: bring water to a rapid boil. Place the covered steaming basket with the ramekins and steam on rapid boil. I am very partial to the Chinese bamboo steaming baskets and use that for almost all of my steaming.
  4. As an added flavoring agent, you could add 1/2 tsp of cardamom powder. An interesting addition is a final flourish of a dash of Grand Marnier liqueur.

Fiddlehead Ferns

If you were looking for something totally different, yet utterly simply and delicious, then you reached the right place.  In-season fiddlehead ferns. But these are available for  a short time, so keep your eyes peeled at your farmers’ market.

I use the Ponzu soy sauce which is a soy sauce with a citric twist. This Japanese sauce is incredible and I believe the inclusion of citrus in the sauce was the result of Dutch influence on the Japanese, a few centuries ago.  A pleasant fruit of cross-talk between diverse cultures.

I dare this rather unusual combination of garlic with the Asian ingredients, but the effect is quite toothsome!

Special tools:

None

Ingredients

  • 200 gms of fiddlehead ferns, delicately washed
  • 1 tbsp Ponzu soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 crushed pod of garlic
  • little salt

Method

Blanch the washed ferns. A quick and less cumbersome way of doing this is to simply wrap them in moist paper towel and microwave for 1 or 2 minutes, based on your microwave. This process both brightens the greens (see the picture on the right of the cooked ferns) and softens them just right.

Gently heat the sesame oil in a frying pan with the crushed garlic. Be careful not to burn the garlic.  Add the ferns, salt and toss till mixed. Be careful with the salt since your sauce would be salted as well. Add the Ponzu soy sauce and rapidly mix till the ferns are well dressed.  Turn off heat and serve warm.

Notes, hints, tips:
  1. If you don’t  like the garlic bits, the sesame oil can be simply infused with garlic: heat the crushed garlic in the oil and then remove the garlic bits when fragrant and use the oil.
  2. An alternative to the Asian ingredients (sesame oil, Ponzu sauce) is the more classic butter.

Mother’s Day Brunch: Quick Coddled Eggs with Popcorn Shoots & Green Tapenade

Coddle your mother with this quick and easy center piece!

Is “quick coddled” an oxymoron ? But such is life that we crave the essence of the slow poaching while skipping the time and mollycoddling the recipe calls for. Haha.

Microgreens is one of my favorite food groups. Today I use the in-season popcorn shoots. One of the popular ways of respecting microgreens is to toss them in a salad (see  pea shoots) .  However, I take a different route here: I don’t upright-stack the corn shoots in the presentation like many chefs do, but immerse them in the eggs.

The other magic ingredient is green olive tapenade. It is quite alright to use a store-bought one- just make sure that you trust the source.  The extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) to grease the cazuela accentuates the tapenade even further.

I may have thrown the rule-book to wind by subjecting both the microgreens and the tapenade to heat; but the result is worth the revolt!

 

Special tools:

Chinese bamboo steaming basket
Individual clay cazuela dish

Ingredients

  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten, with a pinch of salt and black pepper
  • 4 oz popcorn shoots chopped into 1 inch pieces
  • 2 tsp green tapenade
  • 1 tsp EVOO

Method

Oil the clay cazuela dish with the EVOO. Use a brush to oil the sides of the dish as well. Mix the rest of the ingredients and pour into the dish. Steam on high heat for 3 minutes.

Serve steaming hot.

Notes, hints, tips:
  1. For multiple servings, stack multiple steaming baskets.
  2. If you do not have access to the steaming basket, you can use a pair of loosely stackable frying pans. Pour water in the larger pan and bring to a rapid boil. Oil the smaller pan and add the eggs. Cover and place in the larger pan.  Steam for around 4 minutes and check for the doneness to your liking.
  3. Any other light tender greens can be substituted for the popcorn shoots.

French Notes: Navarin to Savarin (part I)

Nothing beats a rhyming menu: entrée  (navarin) to dessert (savarin), with  romarin sprig in champagne. The last one is my favorite apéritif: the fragrant notes of rosemary combined with the crisp bubbles that hit the nose and the palate simultaneouly is a winner in my book.  A sommelier, on Paris soil,  once pointed out to me with his elegant French accent that a flute– which BTW is a great rosemary-sprig delivery device– is where the Americans falter with sparkling wine. He proposed a small red wine glass with a wider brim– I am still pondering over it.

Navarin Printanier is a stew of spring vegetables and lamb. Here I adapt the classical recipe with a touch of overwintered spinach and a garnish of toasted dessicated coconut.
In the second part, I will tackle savarin.

navarin
Navarin Printanier
Special tools:

Slow cooker (crockpot) or pressure cooker

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs lamb stew cut (shoulder)
  • vegetables trimmed and cut into 1″ stew pieces (3/4 cup each of potatoes, carrots, turnips)
  • Flavoring agents: 2 pods garlic minced + 1/2 tsp thyme leaves + 1 bay leaf
  • cooking medium: 2 cups chicken broth + 16 oz crushed tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • Coating: 1/4 cup flour + salt & pepper to taste
  • 8 oz pearl onions + 1 cup green peas
  • 3-4 bunches overwintered spinach, chopped with stem
  • 1 cup (unsweetened) dessicated coconut, toasted lightly on a skillet

Method

Coat the lamb pieces with the coating ingredients in a ziplock bag. Heat the oil on a skillet and brown the lamb pieces. Then remove and add to the slow cooker.  Deglaze the skillet with some of the chicken broth.  Add all the ingredients except that last three bulleted items above.  Add salt to taste and cook on “slow” (200 F) for  5 hours till the meat is tender. Check with the particular brand of your slow cooker.

Add the pearl onions+green peas and  let cook for 45 mins.  Add the spinach for the last 15 minutes of cooking.

Serve hot garnished with toasted coconut.

Notes, hints, tips:
  1. The overwintered spinach is not tender enough for salad but great to provide some texture to this stew.
  2. You can cut time by using a pressure cooker instead.  Based on your pressure cooker,  the cooking time can be as low as 30 minutes.  Take off the pressure and add the pearl onions+peas and spinach.
  3. With enough spinach in the stew, it is a complete meal.
  4. The stew is even better the second day after refrigeration. Not only the flavors meld, any fat residue solidifies as a top layer and can be easily separated.