Desert Cuisine: Rajasthani Ker Sangri

At the July 4th Barbecue, I was tasked with a vegetarian side-dish. Taking a gamble, I turned to Rajasthan, a state in India’s northwest that almost completely encompasses Thar desert (also called the Great Indian Desert). My wager paid off. With timely tips from my Udaipur friend Pankaj, Ker Sangri was a resounding hit !!

A few weeks ago I had ordered panchkutta— a mix of five kinds of dried vegetables– for this iconic Rajasthani dish. The shipping fee was ungodly, but so was my enthusiasm. The package arrived all the way from Jodhpur, to my complete amazement (I thought there would be a local NJ supplier 🙂 )

Regional Indian Cuisines never fail to amaze me. Truely. The five classic tree ingredients of this dish are ker, sangri, koomatiya, goonda, and mango. Koomatiya in particular caught my attention- it is the berry of a variety of mimosa native to Sudan! So with a fascinating backdrop of food anthropology, hyper-traditional-meets-modern-accessibility, ker sangri came together for a finger-licking finale. Enjoy!

Special tools:

None.

Ingredients

  • Tree ingredients: Soak in water for 2-3 hrs (or, till bite-test) 1/2 cup sangri + 1/4 cup each of ker, koomatiya, gunda
  • Sour: 2-3 dried mango pieces soaked in 1/2 cup water (while you soak the above)
  • Sweet: 2 tbsp raisins soaked in 1/4 cup water
  • Spices: 1/8 tsp turmeric + 1/2 tsp red chilli powder + 1/4 tsp coriander powder + a pinch heeng
  • Tempering: 1/4 tsp ajwain + 2 bay leaves + 2 whole dried red chilies
  • 1 tbsp neutral oil

Method

Drain the hydrated tree ingredients. Heat oil. Add all the tempering ingredients. When the seeds pop lightly (about 1 minute) add the spices and quickly mix (without burning) for 10 seconds or so. Add all the hydrated tree ingredients and fold in. Next add the sour and sweet ingredients along with their soaking water. Cover and let meld together for 8-10 minutes. Taste for seasonings and adjust to your taste. Serve hot.

Notes, hints, tips:
  1. I ordered the ingredients from Spice Platter.
  2. If you have a scale, then use 100 gm of sangri to 50 of gm each of ker, gunda, kumatiya.
  3. My version was light both in oil and spices, contrary to recommendations. Feel free to adjust to your taste. I found that I did not even have to salt it. Wonder why.
  4. Here are some interesting sources that you may like to read and view.

Photo: Tree ingredients pre-soaked; Hydrated, drained ingredients; Sautéed vegetables.

Father’s Day: Sprouting Cauliflower Pulihora

A Sprouting Cauliflower showed up in the CSA (Community Shared Agriculture) bag this week for Father’s Day. With a quick internet scan I learn that it is also called Chinese Cauliflower in Asian markets, though its genesis is attributed to a Japanese breeder.

Don’t be distracted by its disheveled, shaggy looks. In fact it is a sweeter version of the regular old cauliflower. I take inspiration from my friend’s Mom who makes the best Andhra-style pulihora (tamarind rice) in town. I do a half-and-half. Curry leaf infused, mild rice –to elicit all the sweetness of the sprouting cauliflower– paired with hot, naughty pulihora. This will knock your socks off. Enjoy!

Special tools:

Processor; microwave.

Ingredients

  • In Processor: 1 Sprouting Cauliflower + 3-4 stalks of curry leaves
  • 1 tsp puliogare powder (or any other spice mix of your choice)
  • 1 tsp oil
  • salt to taste

Method

Pulse in the processor till coarsely riced. Cover with damp paper towel and microwave for 4-5 minutes, till al dente but not mushy. Mix in salt to taste. Divide into two equal portions. Heat oil in a pan and very lightly toast the spice powder and mix in one half of the riced cauliflower.

Notes, hints, tips:
  1. Ricing the cauliflower is also a good use of the stem portion of the head. If you can handle heat, then also pulse in half a green chilli.
  2. I use a store bought puliogare powder, perhaps to the horror of my friend’s Mom. It works out fine, although nothing beats a homemade mix.
  3. If too hot, serve with yogurt.

Fermented Black Garlic Beet Greens

The star of the show is fermented black garlic that can pass off as a sweet, fruity grape. The caramel-colored sauce is tremendous in this cobbler of a side dish- but could steal the stage from the best centerpiece. Enjoy!


SPECIAL TOOLS:.

Pressure cooker.

Ingredients

  • 4-5 Beet Green Stems: leaves separated from stems, chopped, and stems diced
  • 5-6 fermented black garlic, halved
  • Flavoring agents: 1 tbsp EVOO + 1 whole red chilli crushed + salt to taste
  • Sweet-sour agent: 2 tbsp pomegranate juice
  • Finishing sauce: 1/2 can coconut milk + 1 tbsp sesame paste, whisked together

Method

Heat oil and saute the diced stems for 3-4 minutes. Add the red chillies and continue to saute for 15 secs and 1 cup water with the pomegranate juice. Add the black garlic and salt. Cook under medium pressure for 10 minutes.

Whisk in the finishing sauce and warm to serve.

NOTES, HINTS, TIPS:
  1. Any greens can be used. In fact, a mixture of kohlrabi and beets works as well. So does, collard greens or kale.
  2. The fermentation is a complicated process, and it turns the garlic black. It plumps up in the cooking absorbing liquid and turns surprisingly fruity.

Chilled Mango Zoodles

Memorial Day and it’s the season of mangoes! Ripe yellow mangoes have many sweet renditions (kulfi, pie, lassi, …), but here is a savory one.

This is inspired from Kerala’s Mambhayzha-Moru-Kootan (mango-buttermilk-cooked) that a gourmand shared with me very recently. Back in the days, I remember his home always redolent with what I called South Indian deliciousness. His Mom was a terrific cook.

With summer upon us, I adopt a page from gazpacho– uncooked and chilled. The smoothness of sweet mango and sour yogurt contrasted with the texture of crunchy zucchini noodles will keep your palate engaged. Not to mention the aroma of curry leaves and delicate heat of tempered spices. Enjoy!


SPECIAL TOOLS:.

Blender, Spiralizer.

Ingredients

  • Cold soup: 1 cup yogurt + 1 large mango peeled, stoned + 1/2 can coconut milk (200 ml or 7 oz)
    + 2 large sprigs of curry leaves + 1 tsp cumin powder + 1 tbsp grated ginger + chilli powder and salt to taste
  • Zoodles: 1 zucchini, spiralized
  • Tempering: 2 tbsp EVOO + 1 sprig of curry leaves + 1 tsp whole mustard + 1/4 tsp methi (fenugreek) seeds + 2 whole red chillies + 1/8 tsp heeng (asafoetida)

Method

Blend the soup ingredients till smooth. Fold the zoodles in.

Heat the tempering oil in a little saucepan, add the rest of the tempering whole spices and let sputter for 10-15 seconds. Turn off heat and add the heeng and let sizzle in residual heat for 3-4 seconds. Pour the hot spiced oil over the soup. Serve chilled.

NOTES, HINTS, TIPS:
  1. Gazpacho or Laksa ? You decide. But this mango-coconut-yogurt soup will become your summer go-to.
  2. Unleash your kitchen toys on this one. I use a very powerful blender– so even though the mango was a little fibrous, it was no challenge. I also directly add in the curry leaves, but the result is still smooth.
    The spiralizer produces the zucchini noodles in minutes. Even zucchini haters (I used to be one) will love this.
  3. Tempering is optional. But If you like that inimitable Indian flavor, do temper.
  4. You may add toppings like avocado and microgreens to round it out even further.

Grilled Stuffed Paneer

How do you take paneer (homemade chena) up a notch? By grilling it with a surprise accent!

This one explodes with flavor at every bite, from a secret filling: spicy Indian-pickle brine. Make the pressed chena as here. To stuff: slit the cheese block into two flat halves and brush with Indian pickle brine on the two insides surfaces as shown in picture. Press the two halves back together into whole. Brush the outside surface lightly with EVOO and grill for 3-4 minutes on each side. Enjoy!

NOTES, HINTS, TIPS:

  1. The pressed homemade cheese is perfect for this.
  2. Store bought Indian mango pickle was used here. You could marinade for a few hours or refrigerate overnight in a ziplock bag.
  3. Since the grilling is light, a stove top grill also works out well.

Sour Beet Clear Soup

Recently when I saw the news of a drive to get Unesco recognition of borscht, I was reminded on my trips to Wrocław and Warszawa. I was particularly smitten by their sour soups.

Here is my version of the Polish barszcz. Although many suggest to simply use lemon juice or vinegar for the sourness, I just simply could not not sour the beets (kwas). I found the beet fermentation is not as daunting as one might think. Moreover, kwas is a refreshing drink as well, with all the goodness of fermentation.

The clear ruby soup is not just an eye candy but also a delectable delight. Enjoy!


SPECIAL TOOLS:

Fermentation Crock, pressure cooker.

INGREDIENTS

Makes 4

  • Kwas: 2 lbs beet, peeled and sliced + 2 slices of rye bread
  • Soup:
    • Beet stock : 2 large beets + vegetables (1 medium celeriac root+ 1 large carrot + 1 large onion), peeled and sliced
    • 1 oz dehydrated mushroom (lion’s mane) soaked in a cup of water for few hours
    • Seasoning: 2 crushed garlic + 1 tbsp butter + salt & sugar to taste

METHOD

Kwas: Place the beet in the crock. Boil plenty of water and let cool till lukewarm. Then add to the beets, so that it is 1 inch above the beets. Add the bread slice. Cover with cheese cloth and a lid and let ferment for at least three days. Then remove the bread with a spatula. Using a strainer lined with cheese cloth, strain the liquid and store in mason jars.

Beet stock: Pressure cook all the vegetables in 8 cups of water (or about 1/2 inch above the level of vegetables) till tender. Strain to extract the clear stock.

Soup: Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 mins: 7 cups of stock + 3 cups kwas + 1/2 cup hydrating mushroom liquid + 2 cloves of garlic. Mix in 1 tbsp butter and turn off heat. Serve with sauteed mushrooms.

NOTES, HINTS, TIPS:

  1. I adapted from Fresh from Poland (by Michal Korkosz) and this online source.
  2. Kwas turned out to be a delicious drink, with a touch of sourness (think of it as a vegan chaas). If you don’t have a Fermentation Crock, you can use just a mason jar or a ceramic pot.
  3. You can use lemon juice (or vinegar) to taste, if you don’t want to go through the kwas fermenting process.
  4. You can also use parsnip, celery, leek etc. For the beet stock, as a rule of thumb use 2 lbs beet to 1 lb veggies.
  5. Instead of mushroom dumplings, I use simply sautéed mushrooms.
  6. The pressure cooker really softens the veggies, so the leftover pulp can be mashed with a masher. Mix with some chickpea flour (besan) to soak in the moisture + salt + spices (chilli powder, garlic powder and cumin) and press into a thin layer on a parchment lined tray. Score and bake for 25-30 mins. See picture below. Peel off the parchment and enjoy!

Kwas:

Soup: