Monthly Archives: March 2013

We Are Out Of Ice!

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I know it looks like I’m surprised that we’re out of ice, but in truth, we haven’t had more than 8 tiny ice cubes in at least two weeks.  Normally, I don’t miss ice in my water.  And we rarely drink soda, which tends to live on the wine rack until it goes flat after two years.  And yes, that really did happen more than once.  And the beer gets put in the fridge before the frozen and perishable stuff, so it’s always cold already.

Today, though, I really wanted a cold drink, and the lack of ice prompted the making of a Coke float!

Coke float

It was delicious…  And entertaining until it started dripping!

Coke float

And now I’m cold!

Aside

I was planning to tell you all about how to make chole (Cho – lay), which is exactly like the simple dal I already shared except that it’s got chickpeas instead of lentils.  This was not my finest effort, so I’m going to refer you to the previous post, tell you to replace the lentils with 2 cans of chickpeas, drained, and carry on.  You can, of course, get dried chickpeas. soak them for 2 days, then cook them for 12 hours in the crock pot, or any other cooking method you choose, but the canned ones work great.

Anemic Chole

Instead of chole, let’s talk about idli sambhar.

Idli Sambhar

Nope, that wasn’t English.  Idli (id – lee) are steamed rice patties.  By themselves they resemble soft rice cakes in flavor, as in, they don’t really have any.  You can make them from scratch, but I’m told they need warm weather, so the batter can ferment correctly.  You can buy mix and steam them at home, but you need a tall pot with a lid and a special steamer rack.  Or you can do what I do, and buy them frozen.

Idli Sambhar

Sambhar is a spicy vegetable soup.  It reminds me in flavor of my Grandma Price’s vegetable beef soup, even though there aren’t a lot of ingredients in common.  Sambhar has everything but the kitchen sink in it, pumpkin, onions, spices, curry leaves, and drumstick.  Drumstick is an okra-like vegetable that’s long and thin,  You can suck the pulp out of the middle, or you can just leave it in the bowl, but it’s supposed to be great as a holistic arthritis (inflammation) treatment.  In the above picture the long green stick in the soup is a drumstick.  I am not a fan of eating the drumstick, but it doesn’t change the flavor of the broth.  You can make your own from scratch, but like I said, lots of ingredients.  You can buy a seasoning packet and add your own veggies, but still, lots of ingredients.  Or you can do what I do, and buy it frozen.

Sambhar

We have Idli Sambhar at least twice a month for breakfast.  The sambhar we get is pretty spicy, at least medium heat, but you could dilute the spice by adding a little sugar or sauteing an extra onion and simmering with the frozen sambhar, That would also make it go further so buy two packets of idli if you’re taking that route, and serve 4 people instead of 2.  One box of sambhar and one packet of 6 idli is enough for both of us for breakfast.

Idli sambhar

So go to your local Indian grocery store, and get you some idlis!

Idli Sambhar

Simple Dal

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I did make dal Thursday, as scheduled, but it took twice as long as normal because we stopped every few minutes to take pictures.  I should really come clean here, and let you know that I am NOT a photographer.  I was in 4-H for 10 years, and out of roughly 40 projects, I got lower than a blue ribbon on only two.  Photography was one; I got a red ribbon, and I’m still mad about it.  Dog Obedience was the other, and I don’t want to talk about how much that white ribbon hurt.  So I enlisted the help of my wonderful husband, who fancies himself a photographer, and I’m not about to argue if it keeps me from having to take 7 shots of the same cut onion.

Simple Dal

Here’s the important thing to remember about dal, which is a basic lentil soup.  It’s like chicken soup, everyone has their own recipe.  Indian food is totally regional, so where one area, say Karnataka (where Naren’s from) may use a hotter mix of spices, another will use a more sweet and sour flavor palate.  We use a more hot/sweet profile, but the recipe below can be adjusted for your preferences.

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Lentils are about the most nutritionally perfect food on the planet, and there are a bunch of varieties.  Alton Brown, host of Good Eats, did a whole show on lentils, and does a great job of explaining the nutritional benefits, so look it up if you’re interested.  It’s really easy to incorporate a meatless night into your weekly meal planning if you consider using lentils.  And since there are so many varieties available, you won’t get bored.

For our everyday simple dal, I use toor dal, which is a yellow split lentil.  They take a solid hour or more, depending on how old they are, to cook on the stove top, or significantly less time if you’re willing to use a pressure cooker.  We’ve used several different kinds of lentils (masoor dal are tiny red split lentils, and cook a lot faster), but toor dal is our favorite.  You can also cook your lentils in the crock pot, so they’re ready to flavor when you’re ready to cook; this is a great option, especially if you’re using a whole lentil like moong dal, which are small green lentils.  This recipe seems like a lot of steps and work, and I’m not going to lie, the first couple of times, it’s daunting.  But I promise you won’t be sorry, and after a couple of times, it won’t seem like such a big deal.  The key is to get your mis en place (prep) done while the lentils cook.

Here’s the method I usually use:

Simple Dal (makes 3 generous servings)

If I’ve listed a flavor you don’t like, feel free to omit or replace with something you like.  You could easily double or more this recipe.  Like most soups, it is usually better when reheated, and freezes beautifully.  

  • 3/4 c. toor dal
  • 1 medium onion
  • 3 small green chilies
  • 1 inch peeled ginger
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp. each cumin seeds and black mustard seeds (DO NOT substitute yellow mustard seeds)
  • 10 fresh curry leaves
  • 1/2 cinnamon stick
  • 2 Tbsp. vegetable, olive or grapeseed oil
  • 1 Tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1/2 tsp. each turmeric powder and garam masala
  • 2 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1 -10 oz. can diced tomatoes with cilantro and lime
  • 2 Tbsp. tamarind paste

Rinsed Dal

Grab a medium sized saucepan, and cover 3/4 c. toor dal with cold water.  Swish the lentils around, and drain off most of the water.  Repeat 7 times until the water remains pretty clear.  It’s also a good idea to spend a minute picking through the lentils for rocks or other non-edible hitch hikers.  Make sure your lentils are covered with about 3 inches of water (you can add more hot water later if it looks like it’s getting too dry).  Bring the lentils to a boil, and reduce heat to medium high.  Keep an eye on the pan while you’re prepping the rest of the ingredients; you will need to skim the foam off a few times, and make sure your pot doesn’t boil over.  Once you’re skimmed off the foam a few times (don’t worry about getting it all, just get the majority), add a bay leaf and a pinch of red pepper flakes.  Let the lentils cook, gently boiling, uncovered, about an hour.  Check occasionally for doneness, looking for the color to lighten and the texture to be soft, but not falling apart.

Onions, chilies, ginger, garlic and curry leaves

Meanwhile, slice or chop a medium sized onion and a couple of chilies, and mince or press 3 cloves of garlic and about an inch of fresh ginger (or use a couple Tbsp. garlic ginger paste).  We use the small green chilies, but serrano peppers are a good substitute; remove seeds and ribs if you want a mild heat.

Cumin and black mustard seeds, curry leaves  and cinnamon

Heat a 10 inch skillet over medium high heat, add 1 tsp. each whole cumin and black mustard seeds, 2 Tbsp. oil, half a cinnamon stick and about 10 fresh curry leaves.  It’s worth looking for fresh curry leaves at your local asian market, but you can use dried (add to the dal with the bay leaf) or they can be omitted if you can’t find them.  When the seeds start to pop, add the onion, chilies, garlic and ginger, stir for about a minute, then reduce heat to medium low, cover pan, and let cook about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent burning.  Remove the lid, and cook another 10 to 15 minutes until onions are soft and beginning to caramelize.  Break up 2 Tbsp. tamarind paste and cover it with 1/4 c. boiling water from the cooking dal.  Mash this with a fork, and set aside.  You can omit the tamarind altogether or skip this step and add a generous pinch of sugar or a Tbsp. tamarind chutney with the tomatoes later instead.

Tomato paste, coriander, turmeric, garam masala and canned tomatoes

Once the onions are starting to turn golden, increase the heat to medium high, add 1 Tbsp. tomato paste and 1/2 tsp. each turmeric powder and garam masala, 2 tsp. ground coriander and 1 tsp. salt, and stir about 2 minutes until the tomato paste.  You’ll notice the tomato smell change, and that’s the sign to add 1 small can diced tomatoes and juice plus about half a can of water, and the water from the soaking tamarind.  I like the Rotel tomatoes with lime and cilantro, but you can also do a fresh tomato or whatever canned variety you have.    Cook and stir until the juice is nearly gone.

Ready for dal

Add the cooked lentils to your pan (or your onions to the lentils, depending on pan size), and simmer about 15 minutes or longer, since it’s basically soup.  Serve with basmati rice and/or your choice of flat bread (naan, chapati, paratha).  Don’t tell Naren, but sometimes when he’s not looking, I add corn chips to mine and eat it like soup and crackers!

Indian Rice Casserole

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Thanks for visiting my blog.  My name is Amanda.  I’m married to a great guy, love to cook, travel and read, and I’m a nanny to three boys.  Growing up I hated being called Mandy, but mainly because it eliminates a chance from my brother to tease me, I’ve come to terms with it.

My husband is Indian, and my mother-in-law lives approximately 7000 miles away.  Does your husband ever compare your cooking to his mom’s?  It’s cliche, but also completely annoying!  I found out really quickly that a bottle of Sriracha had to sit next to the salt shaker on the table, since even the dishes he likes end up covered in both hot sauce and salt.

Naren, my hubby, has mastered a few dishes, but we got pretty tired of dal (lentils) and upma (think couscous) really quickly.  And despite my best efforts, most of my German-inspired Midwestern home cooking fell short of his expectations.  Every time I make something casserole-like, he complains.

Naren’s favorite dish is chicken biriyani, which is a layered rice dish.  It’s delicious, but usually reserved for special occasions because it’s rather labor-intensive.  I tried making it the “right” way a few times, mostly resulting in epic failures.  Annoyed by the casserole moratorium, I started referring to all my rice casseroles as different kinds of biriyani… Arroz con pollo = Mexican biriyani!  Then I made my version of biriyani and called it Indian rice casserole.  We were halfway through dinner when Naren looked up and said, “This is biriyani,” and went back to eating.  On a related note, tonight I made tuna noodle casserole, and it was so good he said, “This doesn’t taste like casserole.”

Thanks to some generous Indian friends, willing to share what they know (Special thanks to Neha, Ruchi, and Amee for their patient tutorials) and a LOT of internet research and trial & error, I’ve expanded my repertoire.  I’m certainly not an expert, but even though my roti (flat bread) aren’t ever round, I now occasionally get them to turn out soft instead of crispy, mainly because I’ve learned there are some things it pays to buy!

Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to share some of this knowledge, and realized there aren’t a lot of good websites out there for curry virgins.  Indian food tends to scare those of us from the Midwest, and I think that’s tragic.  Also, I’m totally useless at writing down my recipes unless it’s to share them, and now I have a place to do that!

Tomorrow we’re making basic dal.  Hopefully I’ll figure out how to add some pictures.  Then again, that means I need to clean my kitchen…