Perfumed Lamb Stew with fennel, peppadew

I bet you never expected to see “perfumed” and “lamb” together. This stew is amazingly fragrant from the mixed notes of fennel and grapefruit zest. Enjoy!

SPECIAL TOOLS:

Dutch oven (Le Cruset).

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 lb boneless butterflied leg-of-lamb cut into large 2 inch chunks, after removing the fat layers + salt and pepper
  • Aromatics: 1 medium onion, diced + 2 pods garlic, crushed + 2 anchovy fillets + 1 medium-sized carrot, cut into thin discs
  • 1 cup red wine
  • Vegetables: 1/2 fennel, thinly sliced cross-wise + 10 shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced + 1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives
  • Topping: 1 medium grape-fruit, zested and juiced + 1/8 cup pitted kalamata olives + 5-6 small pickled hot peppers (Peppadew), with 2 tbsp pickling liquid (optional: dash of Pernod)

METHOD

Mix the lamb with the aromatics in a thick bottomed pot (Le Cruset). Note that you do not have to add any liquid. Cover and cook at 325 F for 1 hour. Stir and continue to cook covered for another hour. Note that the meat will be neatly browned by now.

After 2 hrs (or less, depending on your oven, size of your pot etc), deglaze with red wine and mix in the vegetable ingredients and cook uncovered for another 45 mins to 1 hr till fork tender. Remove from the oven and mix in the toppings and keep covered for 5 minutes. Serve hot with rice.

NOTES, HINTS, TIPS:

  1. I love the no-fuss browning technique. Two sources of browning here. The usual hot surface of the pot (hence don’t stir) and the second is the browning of the exposed surface from the heat in the oven when the lid is removed.
  2. I had stumbled upon the browning technique of above out of sheer minimalism or laziness for elaborate procedures (like coating with flour, browning individually etc).
  3. If your pot has a larger surface area, you may lose the juices faster than if all is crammed into smaller space. So, make your adjustments accordingly and adding a little water if required.
  4. Adapted from the French, à la Gardiane.

Rice Vermicelli Salad

I never paid much attention to the ubiquitous pink pickled onions dotting the tables of many Indian restaurants in the west. I was taken aback once when I was asked about this “iconic” condiment by an eager gourmand. Embarrassed by my bias, I was determined to bring it center-stage.

Flash pickled onions in white balsamic is what puts this otherwise plain salad over the top. The white truffle oil only gilds the lily. You will be surprised by how well the simple ingredients come together in this tangy-sweet, sharp, bright salad. Enjoy!

SPECIAL TOOLS:

None.

INGREDIENTS

  • Rice:
    • 1 cup brown basmati
    • 1/2 cup loosely packed broken vermicelli, dry pan-toasted till golden brown
    • cooking liquid: 1/2 cup champagne + 1 1/2 cup water
    • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Pickled onions: 2 cipollini onions, thinly sliced and soaked in 1/3 cup white balsamic vinegar + pinch salt, for 15 minutes
  • Dressing: 3 tbsp (white truffle) EVOO
  • Greens: 1 1/2 cup loosely packed baby red Russian kale
  • Nuts : 1/3 cup slivered almonds
  • Topping: micro greens (optional: shaved Dill Havarti)

METHOD

In a pot, place the rice and the cooking liquid. Simmer on low-medium for 15 minutes. Add the toasted vermicelli, mix and cook for another 15 minutes. Turn off heat and fluff the rice. [Adjust with the cooking time of the rice of your choice, by adding the vermicelli at the mid point]. Season with salt and pepper while the rice is still warm.

To wilt the greens, fold in while the rice is still warm.

Drain the shallots and reserve the liquid for the dressing. Make a light dressing with the reserved liquid and EVOO. Mix shallots and the nuts in the rice, when slightly cooled.

Dress the salad and serve (cold or at room temperature) with the topping. 

NOTES, HINTS, TIPS:

  1. Champagne can, of course, be replaced by your favorite dry white wine if you don’t want to exhaust your precious bubbly.
  2. Notice that there are two layers of greens in this: the wilted greens and the topping greens. This is deliberate to contrast the texture and sharpness of the two classes.
  3. The creaminess of Havarti contrasts well with the chewiness of brown rice.
  4. Shallots is a good substitute for cipollini. Even regular onions- just slice it very thin.
  5. Additional greens like baby spinach, arugula is also welcome.
  6. The combination of fragrant rice, nutty vermicelli and almonds is a Persian inspiration. Albeit, without the brown butter (ghee).

Caramelized Ragi Polenta

When I last visited India, I brought back a bag of whole red millet called nachni or ragi. Then I scoured the web for suggestions: all used the milled form. Yes, the powerful Vitamix can pulverize the grains in seconds, but I wanted to respect the granularity. I found that the whole grain indeed takes a long time to cook- perhaps the reason why it has escaped the interest of the internet foodies. But I am very patient. And, exploitative! I use the grains’ resilience for a despacito caramelization.

I present two forms: one sweet, for a breakfast porridge; the other savory, to accompany your entree. The al nero (black) in the latter comes from activated charcoal, a superfood.

Use a thick-bottomed pan to get deep caramelization. Keep an eye on it and cook with your nose. The results will blow your mind, as it did mine. Enjoy!

SPECIAL TOOLS:

Thick-bottomed pan, wooden spoon.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup whole red millet, soaked for about 8 hrs in plenty of water, then drained
  • dash of salt + 1/2 can of coconut milk (about 1 cup)
  • Sweet version:
    • Sweet flavorings: 10 prunes + 1/8 cup dehydrated Goji Berries + 1/8 cup dehydrated black cherries + dash of salt
    • Topping: dehydrated mulberries
  • Savory version:
    • Savory flavorings: 1 cup coarsely grated cheese (sharp Cheddar) + 1 tbsp olive tapenade + 1/2 tsp edible Charcoal powder
    • Topping: 1/4 cup coarsely grated cheese

METHOD

For the sweet version mix in the all the flavoring ingredients with the grains. Cook the grain in intervals of 30 minutes as follows.

Place the grains with about 1 cup of water (which should be only about 1/2 cm or so above the level of grains) in a thick-bottomed pan. Bring to a boil. Then simmer, covered, on medium-low for 30 minutes.

Do not worry if it sticks to the bottom – just don’t let it char too much. Then with a wooden-spoon, deglaze with a tbsp of water. Add another cup of water (the level should be just a little above the grain surface) and continue to cook covered for another 30 minutes.

Again, deglaze with 1 tbsp coconut milk. Add the coconut milk, cover and cook for the last 30 minutes. Turn off heat. For the savory version, fold in the flavorings. Let it rest for 10 minutes.

Serve hot with the toppings.

NOTES, HINTS, TIPS:
  1. Soaking the grain is optional. However, soaking in water activates the grains- this makes the enzymes lot more accessible to your body. It turns out to be a little grainier when not soaked, but still delicious.
  2. The activated black charcoal does not lend any perceptible flavor– just turns the polenta al nero black. The saltiness of the olive tapenade marries well with the richness of the cheese.
  3. Due to the dehydrated fruits in the sweet version, the kitchen is redolent with the intoxicating aroma of caramelization. Almost like molasses. This porridge will blow your mind! Try this out on a lazy Sunday morning – you can get a lot done while this cooks 🙂 Just use your timer to intervene at the right times; do not baby-sit this one.

Moringa Bati

In my recent trip to Rajasthan, I got to know bati quite intimately. Pankaj, a friendly local, exposed me to these delectable, roasted rolls at a restaurant, at a dhaba and even at a streetside gig (scroll down for pics). Quite impressed, I almost schlepped a large bati-pan back home to New York. [Update: Pankaj approved this post!]

The whole-wheat roll, more of a country food (in contrast to royal cuisine), is usually elevated by copious amounts of ghee. What I present here is not your mother’s bati: I replace the dairy fat with another – cheese. With stunning results. The cheese provides an inimitable je-ne-sais-quoi, apt for both a savory as well as sweet accompaniments.

Moringa is a common member in the Indian pantry. What is unusual is the powder form of the leaves now available in over-priced jars. Touted as a superfood, it has the optics of matcha (Japanese green tea) including the grassy flavor and a hint of bitterness. Moringa marries the batis well, pushing the latter’s health-index off the charts. This goes very well with kalamata-hummus, a reinterpretation of the classic dal-bati duo.

I pair the moringa-less bati with a Sicilian jam (thanks to Filippo). This unusual confiture is made from Indian Fig and coffee beans. BTW, the fruit’s name is a misnomer, thanks to history.

Enjoy the batis as hors-d’œuvre or as dinner rolls!

SPECIAL TOOLS:

An oven or just a toaster oven.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp ajwain seeds (carom) + 1/2 tsp salt
  • Leavener: 1/8 tsp baking soda + 1/8 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano + 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  • 2 tbsp yogurt (2% fat) + little water to make a dough
  • Optional: 2 tsp Moringa powder

METHOD

Make a soft dough with all the ingredients. Rest the dough for 10-15 minutes. Make 8 lemon-sized balls. Place on a baking tray, lined with silicone mat or parchment. Brush the balls with cold water.

Bake at 375 F for 15 minutes. Rotate the tray and bake for another 10 minutes (until nicely browned). Serve hot.

NOTES, HINTS, TIPS:
  1. Absolutely simple to make. The flour I use here is atta, the durum flour that also has some bran in the mix (from the Punjabi diaspora in Canada).
  2. You can serve the batis with your usual spread, or with your meals -lunch or dinner, as it was originally intended ala the classic dal-bati combination.
  3. Batis can also be poached in water. Then they are deep-fried for a crusty outer surface.
  4. The amount of cheese in the recipe is just enough to give a hint of savory without being cheesy. But if you prefer cheesiness, you can double the amount of cheese.
  5. The ajwain provides an accent just like caraway to rye breads.
  6. The soda in the dough and the water-glaze on the surface, help brown the roll.
  7. Pankaj suggested using commercial Eno as the leavener. Eno is a combination of baking soda, citric acid and salt and is easily available in the Indian markets as a solution to indigestion. Perhaps because this is a more sanitized baking soda, many Gujarati/Rajasthani homes have been using this as a leavener for decades. Did Tarla Dalal (the Julia Child of India) start the trend?

Moringa version, in a toaster oven:

Dhaba bati: slow-cooked submerged in ambers, then cleaned, dunked in ghee and served on a thali.

(Left) Streetside bati accompanied by incredible functional (ass-to-grass) squats! (Right) Torn-up, deep-fried bati in a thali in a restaurant.

Silk Road: Kashmiri Kahwa Tea

In my last trip to India, I was introduced to this incredibly fragrant, flavorful, gentle Kashmiri Tea. Green tea with saffron, rose petal and sweet spices. I am a tea junkie and I feel obliged to share this one. What sets this apart, in my mind, is the use of delicate sweet spices and multiple infusions (ala some high-end Chinese tea).

Using a 21st century “samovar”, you can use multiple infusions to last you an entire afternoon of incessant flavorful tea from a scant teaspoon of tea. See picture: this pot has no beak, the tea comes out of its bottom – pardon my language- into the drinking cup. Enjoy!

Special tools:

A Steeping pot; an electric kettle for heating water.

Ingredients

  • 3/4 tsp Kashmiri green tea
  • 8-10 strands saffron
  • 1/4 tsp edible dehydrated rose petals
  • Sweet spices: 3-4 whole green cardamom pods + 1 inch canela (Mexican cinnamon stick)
  • Optional: dash of Himalayan pink salt

Method

Bring a cup of water to 198 F. Place all the above ingredients in a teapot and pour the hot water into the pot and let steep for about thirty seconds. Strain into a drinking cup.

You can use multiple infusions- don’t discard the tea mix but use fresh hot water for a second, third and even fourth cup of tea. Adjust the steeping time to your preference.

Notes, hints, tips:
  1. The Himalayan pink salt is my contribution to this classic mix: the salt rounds out the flavor (and I believe helps your body absorb water).
    My grandfather used to take a little salt in his tea and the rest of the family scoffed. Now I totally understand.
  2. What makes this Kashmiri tea work with the very delicate flavors of saffron and rose petals is the use of green, not black, tea. The Mexican canela is milder than the regular Malabar or even Saigon cinnamon.
    My regular go-to tea has been the kadak (strong) CTC -Crush, Tear, Curl- pellet, also called mamri, tea. But just once a day. For the rest, I flirt with these other gentle, soul-caressing ones.
  3. The tea gets stronger with longer steeping time. So you can adjust based on your preference. This tea is more amenable to multiple infusions.
    There is nothing worse than lukewarm tea; so keep the water hot.
  4. In my trips to Hong Kong, I had seen the use of porcelain (China) teapots for multiple infusions at tea tasting events. You can use Chinese teapots if that is more easily available for you.
    The teapot shown in the picture here was bought at Teavana in New York. It is very convenient to use: once the steeping is done, you simply place the pot on your cup and the built in mechanism automatically strains the tea into your cup, leaving the tea leaves behind for the next infusion.
  5. You may add honey to sweeten to your cup (not teapot), if you wish.
  6. Sulaimani Tea/ Malabar Tea: India never disappoints me with its variety: I was besotted by Sulaimani in a Tea House in Mumbai. Coincidentally, an Iranian general with a similar name was hot in the news and that confused me about the tea’s origin. But the Sulaimani formula hails from Kerala.
    It is a sweetened black (no milk) tea with a dash of lemon and a few Malabar spices – cinnamon, clove etc. The sweetner is usually honey, and sometimes even jaggery (you can use Mexican piloncillo or panela).

Armenia meets India: Ghapama

When I was in Armenia, every meal was a feast and every feast had ghapama. I was surprised to learn the inroads this Thanksgiving staple had made in Armenia. I can’t help but give an Indian twist with kala chana and tur dal- two iconic Indian legumes. Just a hint of spices with aromatic ghee. This fusion ghapama is bound to steal your heart.

Special tools:

None.

Ingredients

  • 1 pie pumpkin; cut the top to make a lid; scoop out interior; brush with a little EVOO and sprinkle a little salt
  • Legumes: 1 cup kala chana, 1 cup tur dal, each soaked separately in plenty of water for 1-2 hrs, then cooked separately till tender and drained
  • 1 cup wheat berries, cooked until done (follow the instructions on the packet, approx 15 minutes in 2.5 cups water)
  • 1/2 cup figs, each fig quartered
  • 2 tbsp ghee + 1 tbsp cooking oil
  • Indian spices:
    • 1 tsp whole cumin seeds; 1/2 tsp asafoetida (heeng)
    • garam masala: 1 tsp cinnamon powder + 1/4 tsp clove powder
  • salt to taste

Method

Filling: Heat the ghee and oil. Splutter the cumin seeds, add the heeng. Don’t let this burn and immediately add the figs. Then all the legumes and wheat berries. Mix well. Add salt and garam masala powders. Taste for seasonings.

Stuff the bottom half of the pumpkin with the filling. Place the pumpkin lid on top. Keep the rest of the stuffing aside to serve separately on the side. Place the whole pumpkin on a baking tray.

Bake at 350 F for 1 hour.

Notes, hints, tips:
  1. Do not be embarrassed to take the help of your sous chef -The Microwave. Soften the pumpkin skin in the microwave for 2-3 minutes and then cut the top off.
  2. I used the 9″ chef’s knife. Be careful when using a large knife and a stubborn pumpkin. Assume Murphy’s law that if an accident could happen, it will. For the heterodox use of the knife here, always keep the sharp edge away from you.