Thursday, March 31, 2011

Cherry Kanten with Cashew Cream

I went home for spring break last week.  I saw and experienced many things, including figuring out where to find the "Cheapest GOAT MEAT in Town!!" (see right).

And I cooked quite a bit, but mostly reruns, including Celeste's brussels sprouts / fennel / mushroom dish, that warm chickpea and artichoke salad, and a few Indian dishes (below), with which we also had some coconut cardamom panna cotta.

From upper left: spinach salad; cheater chana masala; brown basmati rice with onion, garlic, cumin, turmeric, peas, and almonds; baingan bharta

And here's a rare photo of my brother, my mom, and me about to enjoy the above-mentioned foods:

The one totally new thing I made was a kanten, using some of the agar left over after making coconut panna cotta (more about agar in that post, too).  Now, if you've already made one of these, it might not be too exciting, but I am so tickled by how you can make really delicious, gelatin-free jello out of fruit juice!  The possibilities are endless, I thought, as I stood in the juice aisle at the grocery store trying to decide.  I ended up going with cherry juice, and it was awesome.

This is so easy, it's hardly a recipe.  You boil juice, add agar flakes, reduce heat, simmer and stir for 5 minutes, then pour into cups and chill.  It firms up in about an hour.  Use 1 TB agar flakes per 1 cup juice. 

The cashew cream was equally simple: soak cashews in water, then puree them with a little of the soaking water.  Add sugar and maybe vanilla, and whip it up a bit more.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Almost back!

The blog hasn't died; I've been on vacation!  Exciting gelatinous things are coming soon!

Saturday, March 19, 2011


My brother, who was living in downtown Cairo until several weeks ago, is going back!  I'm really happy for him; it's where he wants to be.  I've also given him the mission of finding some dukkah, which, in all his street food experiences, he hasn't yet encountered.

I think typically you dip bread into olive oil and then into dukkah, so it's quite a bit like za'atar, except that the spices are different, and it's more nutty and less herby than za'atar.  The combination of flavors is crazy!  This recipe from 101 cookbooks (which after googling around looked pretty standard) combines coriander, cumin, fennel, sesame, hazelnuts, pepper, and mint!  Wikipedia also led me to this other dukkah recipe that includes coconut and pistachio.

I love making things like this or like garam masala.  I feel like a scientist creating a magic potion, measuring out all the small amounts of beautiful spices and toasting them individually.  There's also something satisfying about putting in time now for your own ease later. 

Edit 4/3: Dukkah tastes amazing on popcorn!!  Add it to the list of popcorn toppings.  :)


1/2 c hazelnuts
1/4 c coriander seeds
3 TB sesame seeds
2 TB cumin seeds
1 TB black peppercorns
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp dried mint leaves
1 tsp salt

1. Heat a heavy skillet over high heat, add the hazelnuts, and dry-toast until slightly browned and fragrant, being careful that they don't burn. Remove from the heat and cool completely. Repeat the procedure with each of the seeds and the peppercorns. Allow each of them to cool completely.
2. Place the nuts and seeds, along with the mint and salt, into a mortar and pound until the mixture is crushed. Or pulse in a food processor to a coarse consistency; do not allow the mixture to become a paste.
3. Store in an airtight container in a cool place for up to 1 month.  Makes 1 cup.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Almond Lime Coconut Cookies

Check out these cookies from ecurry made with equal parts flour and almond meal.  I think it's really cool that you can make them on the stove (!), but I found them to be a bit unsatisfying.  I'd have like more butter, or vanilla, or something.  In fact, for a similar cookie, I'd probably turn instead to these amazing almond cookies or the rum walnut cookies.

However, the coolest part of this recipe wasn't even the stovetop thing; it was the lime sugar: after grinding sugar together with lime zest in a clean coffee grinder, I had magical green sugar with an intense lime flavor!  This is a groundbreaking discovery.

Indian Lime Cookies
(from ecurry)

1/4 c fine almond meal (I blanched and ground up raw almonds)
1/4 c all purpose flour
1/4 c powdered sugar
1.5 TB ghee or melted butter
1 TB milk/cream
1 tsp lime or lemon zest
1 tsp fine sugar
coconut flakes to garnish the top (optional)

Mix together almond meal, all purpose flour, half the zest, confectioners’ sugar, cream/milk and ghee. Work the dough until it comes together, and no longer crumbly. Pound together the rest of the zest and the superfine sugar. This will be a lime colored sugar.
Divide the dough in to 8-10 portions. Flatten them between the palm of your hands to form discs about an inch in diameter. Carefully place each cookie on a baking sheet, and flatten the cookies with your finger – to 1.5-2 inch diameter. Top with a sprinkle of lime sugar and nuts (if you are using them).
In a pre heated oven at 350 degree F, bake for 8-10 minutes or until the edges get light golden. (in my convection oven, the cookies were done in 6-8 minutes).Place the cooked cooking on a cooling rack or plate. The cookies will crisp once they are cool.
To cook the cookies on stove top:
Work in batches; make flatten four balls of dough to 1 inch discs and place them on a cold nonstick frying pan. Using your fingers, flatten them further so they are as thin as possible, about 1.5 -2 inches in diameter. Top with a sprinkle of lime sugar and nuts (if you are using them).
Place the pan over stove and cook over very low heat for 7-8 minutes. Once the base is light golden, flip them over with a spatula and cook this side over very low heat for about 4 minutes. Try not to let this side turn brown or even golden. Place the cooked cooking on a cooling rack or plate. The cookies will crisp once they are cool. Work with the second batch in the same way.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Pasta with Fennel Pesto and Roasted Veggies

After making that brussels sprouts dish with mushrooms and fennel and the vegan bouillabaisse, I still had some fennel in my fridge.  I just assumed it was going to go to waste--especially the fronds--and then I saw this recipe on holy cow.  You can really make pesto out of anything, can't you?

I reduced the nutritional yeast and the oil, used walnuts instead of pumpkin seeds, and added some lemon juice.  I don't know that I'll make it again--my food processor couldn't really overcome the fennel's stringiness--but it was an interesting variation on an old standard.  Besides the hint of licorice, this pesto is pretty mild, and the balsamic-roasted carrots, fennel, and onion have a nicely sweet flavor.

Pasta with Fennel Pesto and Roasted Veggies
(adapted from holy cow)

1/2 pound whole-wheat pasta (I found that the pesto recipe didn't make nearly enough for this much pasta)
For the roasted vegetables:
1 fennel bulb (cut out the leaves and set aside for the pesto)
2 carrots
1 onion
1 TB balsamic vinegar
1 tsp olive oil
salt to taste
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
For the pesto:
fronds reserved from the fennel bulb, chopped into smaller pieces
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 TB nutritional yeast (optional, but great both nutritionally and for that cheesy flavor)
1/4 cup lightly toasted walnuts
2-3 TB extra virgin olive oil
juice of 1/2 a lemon
1 tsp ground black pepper
salt to taste

1. Dice all the vegetables into 1-inch chunks and place in a baking dish.  Add vinegar, oil, salt and pepper.  Roast the vegetables in a 400-degree oven, stirring a couple of times during cooking, until they are fork-tender and coated with a balsamic glaze. This took me about 35 minutes.
2. Cook pasta according to package directions and drain.
3. Place all the pesto ingredients in a food processor (except the olive oil) and process until coarsely powdered. With the motor running, pour in the olive oil until you have an even paste.
4. Place the pasta, roasted veggies and the pesto in a bowl.  Mix well and serve immediately.  Pesto (the limiting reagent here) serves about 3.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Chickpea Flour Omelette with Black Salt

Today on my way back from a stroll around the Silverlake Reservoir, I decided to finally visit the Spice Station.  Although I often make snarky comments about the kinds of stores on stretches like that part of Sunset, or on Abbott Kinney in Venice (how many organic dog bakeries and handmade toy stores does any neighborhood need?), and though I walked away from the Spice Station and the adjacent bead store having only bought small bags of unnecessary things, Spice Station is amazing!  The prices are really great, especially considering what they could charge their yupster foodie clientele, and they have everything!  One of the things I bought was kala namak, or black salt.  It has a sulphury, eggy taste, which makes it both MAGICAL and of limited application.  Next time, I'll go over the 5 to India Sweets and Spices, but since I only wanted to try a little bit, this actually worked out great.  I think an ounce (about 1/4 c?) was $1.25.

Black salt's natural lover is chickpea flour (besan).  I mean, think about it: you can make an OMELETTE out of the stuff.  And, of course, they both come from the same part of the world.

I made myself an Indian-inspired brunch:

Clockwise from left: rice (I'd have made brown basmati but I was impatient!), chickpea flour omelette, salad, and cabbage with browned tempeh and coconut (another variation on this brussels sprouts recipe).  I thought about throwing in a warm whole wheat tortilla as well, but this seemed like enough at the moment.

So.  About this chickpea flour omelette business.  It's pretty awesome to realize you can make an omelette that still has protein but skips the cholesterol (or most of the fat, period), and has fiber to boot!  First I mixed everything dry (see left), and then I added water to get batter (see right).  It looked a bit weird, but once it started firming up in the pan, my confidence was restored:

It totally looks like an omelette, right?

I went off this recipe from holy cow, but ended up changing almost everything: I needed less water, I didn't have any of the same vegetables, and I used my black salt, of course!  The only thing I'd change is the amount of ginger: I used what seemed like a moderate amount (1 tsp?), but because the omelette doesn't cook very long, it was very gingery.  But I love how versatile this recipe is: although I went with Indian flavors, especially the ginger, you could make any kind of omelette you wanted... and then, garnish an Indian-inspired one with cilantro or chutney, garnish a Mediterraneanish one with olive tapenade or sun-dried tomatoes, put salsa and avocado on a Southwestern-style one, or ketchup on a classic one with tempeh sausage in it.

The texture's not exactly like eggs (how could it be, when there's so much less fat?), but the crispy-chewy outer layer was pretty close.  And it tastes delicious!  I think if you never liked eggs, you probably wouldn't like this, though you could fix that by omitting the black salt.

I had real problems getting the thing to, er, stay one with itself.  The first one I made in cast iron, and it stuck to the bottom (but was still delicious), so I admitted defeat and pulled out the old teflon.  Although this one didn't stick, it still fell apart when I tried to turn it over (at right).  Edit, 3/14: The third time was the charm.  I actually needed to cook it on pretty low heat to get it to cook long enough without burning.

Chickpea Flour Omelette with Black Salt
(adapted from holy cow)

1/2 c chickpea flour
1/4 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
vegetables (I just used ginger and some diced red bell pepper from a jar), finely chopped
1/2 tsp cayenne (or to taste)
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp black salt
3/4-1 c water

Mix together all the ingredients except water, then add water slowly to get a batter that's slightly runnier than pancake batter.  Coat a frying pan with oil and heat over medium-low heat.  Add about 1/2 c batter to frying pan, spreading it out slightly.  Cook until edges brown and lift, and you can (ideally) flip the whole thing.  Repeat on the other side.  Makes 2-3 omelettes.

Brunch, aerial view, with cherry juice from Turkey (thanks, Jons)

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Coconut Cardamom Panna Cotta

I bought me some agar flakes months ago, thinking, "Surely this is a necessary component in the well-stocked kitchen!"  Agar is very exciting.  It comes from algae and is actually superior to gelatin in other ways than its mere veganocity: for one, it seems that agar has a higher melting point.  And of course, it's also way more fun to say.

I proceeded to not touch my new agar at all.  What could you use it for, besides the ubiquitous kanten, a sort of fruit-juice jello?

Then, weirdly, two similar recipes came my way nearly simultaneously.  Panna cotta, formerly doubly unvegan (cream and gelatin), here appears in the form of coconut milk and agar.  Genius!  It's aromatic and rich, yet also refreshing, a great finish to this spicy and hearty meal.

I went off this recipe from hot knives, but I omitted the vanilla beans and long pepper in favor of cardamom and vanilla extract.  I'd also like to try this other recipe, which uses ginger tea and cinnamon.

Coconut Cardamom Panna Cotta
(adapted from hot knives)

1.5 c coconut milk
little sploosh vanilla extract
a sprinkle of cardamom
1/2 c honey (or agave)
4 g agar agar (about a tablespoon? maybe less?  I just winged it)
1 c water
cinnamon and cayenne for dusting (optional)

1. In a saucepan over low heat, combine coconut milk, vanilla, cardamom, and honey.  Mix well, then remove from heat and cool.
2. In a saucepan, heat the cup of water on high heat until it boils.  Reduce the heat to just below a boiling point, and add the agar while stirring rapidly. Agar melts at a very high temperature, but if you boil it you’ll lose some of the water you're melting it into (which will offset the ratio). If you have powder, add it all at once and stir until it seems to have melted/dissolved into the water. If you have sticks, break them off into little chunks (you can jam them in a food processor to make it quick) and do the same.
3. Combine the hot agar gel with the coconut milk and whisk thoroughly. Dump equal servings (about 1/4 cup) into each serving vessel, and place in the fridge to cool. Depending on your fridge temp; this should take not much longer than 30-60 minutes.  If desired, before serving, dust with cayenne and cinnamon.  Makes about 8-12 small servings.  


From a few days ago: this sunset --

...was reflected in and merged with some other celestial pyrotechnics.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Spicy Eggplant Squash Lentil Stew (Dhansak)

I think this might be the ultimate comfort food.  Mushy and hearty, with lentils, split peas, and squash--yet tangy, with mustard seed, lemon juice, and eggplant--and yet also warm-comforty-spicy, with masala, cloves, and ginger--(and with pinpricks of crunch from the corn and the toasted squash seeds!).

As I've just learned, dhansak is like a really pimped out dal that includes squash/pumpkin and other vegetables.  I can't believe I haven't had this combination before; it's amazing.

This recipe from Indian Home Cooking was very straightforward: you just add one thing after another into the stewpot, you make a tempering mixture, and then you put everything together.  I also love how easy the measurements are: 1 onion, 1 squash, 1 eggplant.  Yes! 

I didn't make too many changes, except for adding squash seeds.  It always delights me how naturally squash seeds and squash proper complement each other.  I can almost never resist adding toasted seeds at the end--I mean, since they're there already, why not?

For dinner, I also re-made this amazing recipe for brussels sprouts with coconut, but this time I used regular ol' cabbage instead of brussels sprouts.  Just as fantastic!!  Nutty, buttery, crunchy, tangy, etc.  And so cheap it was practically free.  Actually--lentils, cabbage, and rice--this delicious meal was a good reminder that some of the most nutritious foods are also the most economical.

To round things off, with the stew and the cabbage, we also had some geographically deviant starches: short grain brown rice, and Trader Joe's whole wheat and corn chapatis--I mean, tortillas.  Aaand there was a really exciting dessert!!  Post coming soon.

Spicy Eggplant, Squash, and Lentil Stew (Dhansak)
(adapted from Indian Home Cooking)

1 c yellow split peas
3/4 c lentils
6.5 c water, divided
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 TB ginger, minced
2 tsp garam masala
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp cayenne
1/4 tsp ground cloves
2 bay leaves
1-2 fresh hot green chilies, seeded and minced
2.5 tsp salt (or to taste)
3/4 lb tomatoes, chopped (I used 2 tomatoes)
3 c skinned and seeded butternut squash chunks (1-in), about 1 small squash; reserve squash seeds
5 c eggplant chunks (1-in) with skin (about 1 medium)
1 medium red onion, cut into 1-in pieces
1 c fresh or frozen corn kernels
12 fresh spinach leaves, stemmed washed, and torn into bite-size pieces
Tempering oil
canola oil
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 c chopped cilantro
juice of 1/2 lemon

1. Bring the legumes with 4.5 c of the water to a boil.  Skim off the gunk.  Add garlic, ginger, spices, bay leaves, chilies, and salt.  Reduce heat and simmer covered about 20 minutes.
2. Add vegetables and remaining water (I actually didn't add any water at this point, as it was pretty soupy already).  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer covered about 15 more minutes.  Then, turn off heat.
3. To make tempering oil, heat oil and mustard seeds in a frying pan.  Cover and cook a minute or so.  Add onion, cumin, and garlic; cook about 5 minutes.  Add cilantro, stir, turn off heat, and add lemon juice.  Transfer contents of frying pan into the stew and mix.
4. Adjust seasonings, and serve hot, garnished with additional cilantro and toasted squash seeds.  Serves 6-8.