Sardine Croquette

In my recent trip to Portugal, my memory of the Indian version of croquette (widely called “cutlet”  or the Bengalee  “chop”) was rekindled.  I remember the laborious long drawn-out process of  braising, sauteing, breading and deep-frying in my mother’s kitchen.  They were primarily with vegetables or even garbanzo and the results always addictive.

Embarrassingly, the moment I returned, I unpacked the cans of fish (cod, sardine, ..) purchased at the Lisbon airport and whipped up my version of the croquettes with pantry ingredients.  Using cod, I baked the croquettes instead of deep-frying.  A delightful way to fight your jet-lag.

But I share here a recipe that uses sardines. My friend assured me that sardines could never be converted into delectable croquettes. Here is my proof of contradiction. Yes, he conceded. But you can try them for yourselves. Neither will you miss the deep-frying nor will the sardines throw you off-balance.

Special tools:

Baking tray lined with parchment paper.

Ingredients

  • 1 can of sardines in olive oil (120 gm)
  • I large potato, cooked in its jacket, peeled and mashed
  • Seasoning: salt to taste + 1/4 tsp smoked paprika
  • Flavoring layer:
  • 1 tbsp extra light olive oil (ELOO)
  • 1 cubanelle or frying pepper, finely diced
  • 2 pods of garlic, skinned and crushed
  • 1/2 tsp curry powder
  • Breading:
  • egg wash: 1 egg + 1/2 cup water, mixed
  • about 1 cup (Italian) bread crumbs
  • Serving: arugula

Method

Mash the potato while it is still warm; add the sardines along with the oil and the seasoning ingredients.

Flavoring layer: Heat ELOO. Saute the diced pepper till soft and fragrant (about 2-3 minutes). Add the crushed garlic and saute till softened (about 30 seconds). Add the curry powder and stir till fragrant (about 30 secs).   Add to the potato-fish mix.

Breading: Pinch off  the mix into 16 (small lime sized) pieces and shape into cylinders.  Place breadcrumbs in a flat platter as a thin layer.  With your right hand dip the cylinder in the egg wash; shake off excess. Then using your left (dry) hand roll the croquette in the breadcrumbs. Repeat this process again (i.e., two layers of breading) and then place each croquette on the parchment lined baking tray.

Bake at 400 F for 15 minutes.  Flip each croquette. Then bake for another 10 mins.

Serve in a bed of arugula.

Notes, hints, tips:
  1. Sources of very good quality canned fish exist over the internet, such as Matiz Espana, King Oscar and such.
  2. The frying-pepper is thinner than regular pepper and works well in the recipe. But you can also use onion (half a medium sized) instead of the frying-pepper.
  3. The amount of curry powder used here is enough for a subtle je-ne-sais-quoi but if you prefer a strong curry flavor,  then use 1 to 2 tsps of curry powder.
  4. You can also add very finely chopped cilantro leaves or other greens to the mix
  5. While most of the steps can be done in a jiffy, the breading needs a little bit of patience– factor in 15-20 minutes for this meditative process.

Frugivore’s Delight

I thought I was hitting most of the notes in the food pyramid, until I realized that chocolate/cacao dominated my sweet palate.  I started looking for interesting, but simple, ways to tempt the appetite with seasonal fruits. If there is anything that can beat the produce as they tumble out of the farmers’ baskets, it is grilled fruits with some tantalizing accents.

Here, I also include the savory cucumber and zucchini which are still too timid to join the big-boys’ grill-troupe of meats, burgers and potatoes.

Special tools:

Stove-top grill pan.

Ingredients

  • Sweet fruits:  2 one-inch thick slices of cantaloupe;  2 doughnut peaches slice in half and pitted
  • Sweet glaze:  1/4 tsp of saffron threads crushed in pestle and mortar + 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) + 2 tbsp honey + juice of 1/2 lemon + a pinch of salt
  • Green fruits: 2 small cucumbers halved lengthwise; 2 tender zucchinis halved lengthwise
  • Flavored salt: 1 tbsp porccini flavored salt + 1 tbsp Sicilian salt with lemon & mint
  • Sweet garnish: lavender + lemon zest

Method

Brush the cut sides of the fruits with sweet glaze. Brush cucumber and zucchini with EVOO and sprinkle the flavored salt on it. Heat a stove-top grill pan. Place the sweet fruits in one half and the green fruits on the other half; each with cut side down.  Brush the top of sweet fruits with the glaze and the green fruits with EVOO and salt.  Grill on each side for two to three minutes.  Let cool slightly. Chop (or, not)  and serve.

Notes, hints, tips:
  1. An alternative sweet garnish is to use pollen grains (yes, pollen that you can order online or from the farmer’s market) instead of the lemon zest.
  2. Use any flavored sea salt of your choice, or even make your own.
  3. An option is to serve the grilled fruits with yogurt.
  4. You can add the grilled green fruits to your regular salads.
  5. If in a rush, you can simply dry-roast the sliced stone fruits in a non-stick pan for 2-3 mins on each side. As the sugar caramelizes, it gives an unmatched  depth of flavor. Here is a pluot (a cross between a plum and apricot) and some peaches without the whole shebang of glaze and garnish.
    dry-roasted fruits

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. 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. The quintessential ingredient of the Eastern garam masala is crushed toasted cumin seeds. If your spice merchant does not stock this garam masala, pester them for it or simply use cumin.

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 Eastern garam masala or crushed (toasted) cumin seeds
  • 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. How do you know when the lentil is adequately soaked: it is soft to the bite (and can possibly be used in a raw lentil salad). But a pressure cooker can power through unsoftened lentils without missing a beat.

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.