Mysore Spinach with Dill

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This recipe comes from A Taste of India by Madhur Jaffrey. Ms. Jaffrey is, along with Julie Sahni, one of the most prolific and accomplished chefs of food of the Indian subcontinent, IMO. Jaffrey was born in Dehli, then moved to London to study theater. She finally landed in New York. And, what an addition of chefs in America, I’d say! A Taste of India is out of print now; I snagged it on a remainder table. Amazon still has it and you should get it because it’s a wonderful cookbook that presents Indian food in all its regional deliciousness. Indian food suffers the same problem that Mexican food suffers: most of us have no idea of the breadth of its flavors because we are exposed to only one version of it. That is, whatever is the already known and popular. You know, tandoori chicken, lamb vindaloo, and saag paneer. Nothing wrong with any of those, mind you, but there is so, so much more to it.

This recipe is a lighter version of what we know as “saag.” Saag refers to any leafy green, not just spinach. My contribution is to use bagged frozen cut-leaf spinach. Yes, these days it’s simple to pick up a bag of perfect baby spinach. (I consider this one of the great advances in food processing/marketing of recent memory. I remember trying to clean fresh spinach – not fun.) You can stash a couple of bags of frozen spinach in the freezer just so you can make this delicious recipe any time you want. You say, but the dill? Oh, you buy a bunch and freeze that too and you’ll always have enough on hand.

Mysore, now called Mysuru, is in the state of Karnataka, in the southwest of India. It was the capital of a great empire from 1399-1947 and there is an opulent palace there. Vegetarian cooking rises of great heights here, according to Ms. Jaffrey. This spinach recipe is surely a delicious introduction to the cuisine.

Mysore Spinach with Dill (Soppu Pallya)
attributed to Rani Vijaya Devi
(serves 4-6)

1 1/2 pounds cut-leaf frozen or fresh spinach, chopped
1/2 cup fresh dill leaves, chopped
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 Tablespoon butter, ghee, or vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1/8 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1 whole dried hot red chili

Put the spinach and dill in a large saucepan (about 4 quarts). Cover and cook over medium-low heat for about 20 minutes. Give it a stir to make sure everything gets cooked. Uncover. Add the salt and cream. Raise the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid has evaporated.

Heat the butter/ghee/oil in a small skillet over medium heat. If you use butter, watch it carefully so it doesn’t burn. Add the mustard seeds. Cook for a minute. Then add the cumin seeds and chili. Cook for another minute. Scrape it all into the pot with the spinach. Taste for salt and serve.

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Orange Carrots

I made this recipe for Thanksgiving. I was surprised to discover that many of my guests had never had this combination. How could this be? It’s so easy and so perfect. I sometimes believe that in our rush to embrace the latest exotic ingredients, we forget that there are some very delicious old standards that we should still be cooking and eating. This would be one of them.

Orange Carrots
(serves 4)

2 Tablespoons butter
1 pound carrots, cut into 3″ long x 1/4″ thick sticks
juice and zest of 1/2 orange
salt, about 1/4 teaspoon
1/4 teaspoon dried marjoram (optional)

Place all the ingredients in a large skillet. Cook, covered, over medium-low heat until carrots are nearly done, about 15-20 minutes. Remove the cover and increase the heat to medium-high. Cook off most of the liquid so that the carrots are glazed, stirring to prevent the carrots from sticking. Serve immediately.

Red Lentil Dal

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This is a fabulous version of dal. The original recipe used yellow split peas but I have red lentils, so that’s what I used. And, I used my pressure cooker, because it makes cooking beans so quick and easy.

I don’t usually chop onions using a food processor, but in this recipe, it works perfectly. You don’t need a nice looking dice. The onions cook long enough that they will melt right into the lentils.

You can serve this as a side dish or as a main dish. It’s great over brown rice. Or white rice- but I love the chewiness of brown rice with the mushy lentils.

Red Lentil Dal
(serves 6-8)

1 cup red lentils, rinsed
3 cups water
1 can diced tomatoes with green chiles (such as Rotel™ brand)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1 onion, chopped finely
5 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon ground coriander
3/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 cup minced cilantro (fresh or frozen)
1 Tablespoon butter
1/2-1 teaspoon kosher salt

Cover the lentils in cold water and soak for an hour. Drain the lentils, rinse again, and place in the pressure cooker. Add 3 cups of water and the diced tomatoes (no need to drain them). Lock the lid in place, bring to pressure, and cook at high pressure for 15 minutes. [If you don’t have a pressure cooker, you can cook them on the stove for 45-60 minutes, until they are quite soft.]

While the lentils are cooking, heat up the oil in a skillet over high heat. Add the cumin seeds and cook them until they begin to brown, about a minute. Reduce the heat to medium, and add the onions and garlic. Cook until they are a nice toasty brown. This will take a while, about the amount of time it takes to cook the lentils in a pressure cooker. Add the coriander, turmeric, and cayenne. Stir to combine the spices with the onions. Remove from heat.

When the lentils are done, release the pressure and remove the lid. Add the onions, minced cilantro, butter, and salt. Stir to combine and melt the butter. Serve as a side dish or over rice as a vegetarian main dish.

Adapted from a recipe for “Everyday Yellow Dal” in 5 Spices, 50 Dishes by Ruta Kahate, Chronicle Books, 2007.

Photo: By Mytinytank (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Baked Herbed Cucumbers

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This recipe is nearly the same as this one, Cooking Cucumber: the French Way. So, if you don’t have cream in your fridge but you do have lots of cucumbers, you can make this!

Do not skip the salting step. Cucumbers are full of so much water that you will end up with icky cucumber mush if you try to bake them without salting them to draw out some of the water.

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I made this version with basil. Which gives me an excuse to show off the gigantic basil leaves from my garden. Wow! The basil (and the cucumbers) are very happy this year.

Baked Herbed Cucumbers
(serves 6)

6 medium cucumbers
2 Tablespoons white wine vinegar
⅛ teaspoon sugar
1 ½ teaspoons salt
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh basil (or use dill or parsley)
3 Tablespoons chopped chives or green onions
⅛ teaspoon black pepper
salt and pepper

Peel the cucumbers and cut in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Slice the cucumbers the long way into about ½” slices. Then cut into 3″ pieces. Place in a large bowl. Sprinkle with vinegar, sugar, and salt. Mix and let sit for 30 minute to an hour. Drain, pour onto a towel, arrange in a single layer then pat dry with another towel. You want the cucumber pieces dry so they cook up crisp, not mushy.

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Melt the butter with the fresh herbs and ⅛ teaspoon black pepper in a small saucepan. Place the cucumbers in a large shallow baking dish – large enough so the cucumbers are mostly 1 layer deep. Pour over the melted butter and mix. Place the baking dish in the oven and bake for 50 minutes, stirring a few times during the baking. Remove from oven. Season with additional salt and pepper, if needed.

Baked Polenta

Polenta can be a time-consuming dish. Like risotto, it requires a lot of stirring. Or does it? No, it does not! You can bake it in the oven and it comes out perfect every time. It’s so super-easy, I don’t think I’ll ever make it on the stove top again.

You can use all water or use ½ water and ½ milk. The polenta will be richer and creamier if you use whole milk.

Baked Polenta
(serves 4-5 as a side dish)

2 cups cold milk or water
1 cup yellow corn grits or dry polenta (I like Bob’s Red Mill)
½ to 1 teaspoon salt (use the lesser amount if you are going to mix in cheese)
2 cups boiling water

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 10″ x 8″ baking dish with butter or non-stick cooking spray. For ease of entry/exit from the oven, place on a cookie sheet.

When oven reaches temperature, combine cold milk or water with corn grits in a large bowl. Combine salt with boiling water and whisk to dissolve salt. Add salted water to grits and stir. Gently pour into the greased baking dish. Bake, uncovered, for 45 minutes. Stir before serving.

You can also embellish your polenta with cheese. Stir in ½ cup (or more if you like cheesy) at 45 minutes, then bake for another 5 minutes to melt the cheese. Stir again before serving.

Note: The original recipe said use a 9″x5″ pan, which may work but I have never tried it that way!

Food Photos: The Bane of My Existence

Why do I use photos that clearly aren’t a photo of the dish I’m writing about? Because I hate having to take photos of my food! Sometimes, it’s my dinner. If I need to style the dish, I’m eating a cold dinner. No thank you! Sometimes, my dinner isn’t particularly photogenic. As a blog reader, I’m annoyed by articles that have endless photos of the food from every angle along with many photos of the production. Overkill, I say. I also have no patience for scrolling over a bunch of photos to get to the recipe I am looking for.

But, a photo is important for catching a reader’s eye in the overwhelming noise that is the internet. That’s why I include interesting photos of food that I have found in Wikipedia Commons in my posts, when I don’t like/can’t be bothered to snap a gauzy, perfectly lit photo of my dinner (oh, wait, I never do that). Live with it. I cook and I write about food which is my passion. Photography definitely isn’t my passion. I leave that to people who are way better at it than I am!

The photo above is mine. It’s not all that pretty but that cauliflower sure tastes good! It’s seasoned with tahini, lemon juice, and Aleppo pepper. Aleppo red pepper is slightly spicy – not nearly as hot as crushed Italian red pepper – and has a lovely fruity flavor. I think it’s far more useful in the kitchen than crushed red pepper because it’s more subtle. Find some. You won’t be sorry. It’s great on eggs, hummus, chicken, and right here in this cauliflower recipe.

Roasted Cauliflower with Tahini and Lemon
(serves 4-6)

non-stick cooking spray
1 large head of cauliflower
salt
¼ cup tahini
juice of 1 lemon
¼ to 1 teaspoon Aleppo red pepper

Preheat oven to 400°F. Spray a large rimmed cookie sheet generously with non-stick cooking spray.

Trim off leaves and cut off the tough bottom of the stem on the head of cauliflower. Most of the stalk is edible so don’t try to cut out all of it. It will cook up tender. Slice the cauliflower about ½” thick. The slices won’t hold together; doesn’t matter. Put the cauliflower, in a single layer, on the greased cookie sheet. Spray with cooking spray and sprinkle with salt. Roast the cauliflower in the hot oven for 30 minutes or until tender.

While the cauliflower is roasting, combine the tahini, lemon juice, and Aleppo pepper in a small bowl. Set aside.

When the cauliflower is done, remove from the oven and increase the heat to broil. Spread the tahini sauce evenly over the cauliflower. Return the cauliflower to the oven and broil until the sauce browns up. Serve hot.

Eggplant with Mushroom-Yogurt Stuffing

This is a delicious meatless entreé for 4 or a side dish for 8. The mushrooms give it a meaty texture and flavor. It’s very hearty for a vegetarian dish, especially one that doesn’t include any cheese.

I like to spray the bread crumb topping with non-stick cooking spray. It helps the crumbs brown up nicely while adding very little fat. If you want a richer, crispier topping, you can combine the crumbs with 2 Tablespoons melted butter before spreading them onto the eggplant.

You can stuff the eggplants ahead of time and bake them later. You’ll need to bake them a bit longer to make sure the center is piping hot, however.

Eggplant with Mushroom-Yogurt Stuffing
(serves 4 as an entreé or 8 as a side dish)

2 large eggplants, 1 to 1¼ pound each, cut in half lengthwise
4 scallions, white and green tops, chopped
½ pound coarsely chopped mushrooms
1 medium carrot, grated
½ teaspoon dried thyme
4 Tablespoons butter
3 Tablespoons flour
¾ to 1 cup Greek low-fat or full-fat unflavored yogurt
1½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ cup panko bread crumbs
non-stick cooking spray

Spray a 9″x5″ baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.

Bring a couple of inches of water to a boil in a large pot with a steamer basket. Place the eggplant halves in the steamer and cook until tender, about 20 minutes. Remove from the steamer and allow to cool until you can handle them. Remove the pulp, being careful not to tear the skin. Chop the pulp coarsely, season with ¼ teaspoon salt and set aside. Place the eggplant shells in the baking dish and season them with ¼ teaspoon salt.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the scallions, mushrooms, and carrots. Sauté for 5 minutes until carrots are limp and the mushrooms have started to lose their liquid. Lower heat to low. Sprinkle with the flour and cook for another minute. Stir in the yogurt and chopped eggplant. Season with the rest of the salt and pepper. Taste for seasonings and add more salt if needed.

Fill each eggplant half with ¼ of the filling. Sprinkle 2 Tablespoons panko crumbs on each eggplant half. Moisten with a generous dose of non-stick cooking spray. Bake for 25-30 minutes until crumbs are browned and filling is very hot.

Adapted from The Good Cook: Vegetables, Time-Life Books, 1979.