Saturday, June 23, 2012

3 Recipe #311: Mango Pie Flavored with Cardamom & Saffron

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Made this pie and served it to last night's dinner guests. Served it warm with a scoop of French vanilla ice cream on top. After we all dug in, there was only a half of a pie left. :)

This recipe pairs mango with cardamom, saffron, and lemon zest. The pie shell is a nut crust that's slightly salty and flavored with a hint of cardamom. Please note that this is supposed to be a more of a tart pie than a sweet one. This is why the combination of tart and sweet flavors from the pie and the ice cream, respectively, just go together really well! (However, if you prefer a sweeter pie, I've included an adaptation below to suit these preferences.)

Instead of resorting to the usual baker's tricks of making pies with butter and refined sugar, this recipe relies upon the healthy Omega-3 and Omega-6 oils in walnuts to help bind the crust and honey to naturally sweeten the pie. If you only have a single slice after dinner, it's actually fairly low fat. Almost all of the fat content comes from the nuts (and also to a lesser extent, the oats) in the crust versus the pie filling. Yes, this pie's actually healthy for you, and is not only packed with flavor, but lots of nutritional value as well. This way, you can enjoy a delicious treat and still feel good about yourself the next day. :)

Mango Pie Flavored with Cardamom & Saffron

Crust Ingredients:
1 1/4 c. oats
1 c. chopped walnuts
2 Tbsp. honey
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground cardamom
2 Tbsp. ice water

Filling Ingredients:
3/4 c. cold water
1/4 c. cornstarch
4 c. yellow mango, peeled, pitted, and sliced into bite-sized pieces (about 3 medium-sized yellow mangoes)
1/4 c. honey (if you prefer a sweeter pie, use 3/8 - 1/2 c. honey instead)
1 tsp. lemon zest
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
1 tsp. saffron, soaked in 2 Tbsp. plain soy milk
1/4 tsp. salt

Directions: Make the crust: Place oats in a food processor and process until they turn into a fine powder. Next, add nuts, honey, vanilla, lemon juice, salt, and cardamom, and process until the mixture forms a smooth paste. Pour in ice water and process just until mixture achieves a dough-like consistency. Do not overmix, or crust will become too hard when baked. Remove mixture from food processor, scraping out remaining bits with a spatula. Using your hands, form into a dough ball, cover with plastic wrap, and place into the freezer for a half hour.

Make the filling: While you’re waiting for the dough to freeze, make the filling: add cold water and cornstarch to a small bowl to make a slurry; stir together until smooth and also to break up any clumps. Set aside. Add mangoes, honey, lemon zest, lemon juice, pure vanilla extract, cardamom, saffron mixture, and salt to a large sauce pot and cook on medium heat. Stir together with a heatproof spatula, continuously folding over mixture until honey has dissolved and the cornstarch slurry has adequately thickened the filling mixture. The white color of the cornstarch slurry should completely disappear by the time the filling is finished cooking. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Assemble the pie: Remove dough from freezer. If dough ball is too dry, add a small amount of water to it before rolling it out. For easy clean-up, spread wax paper onto a clean, flat work surface. Using a rolling pin, roll out dough onto the wax paper into a large circle formation until it’s about a 1/4 “ thick. Place an 8” pie plate face down onto the rolled-out dough, positioning it so that it’s lined up properly with the dough. Lift up the wax paper and gingerly flip it over so that the pie crust is now on top of the pie plate. Be sure to hold onto both the pie plate and the wax paper while flipping them over. (If you don’t feel comfortable doing this, you can also lift up the wax paper and flip it the dough over into the pie plate.) Mold pie crust to pie plate, pressing dough down to cover the bottom and sides of the pie plate. Perforate the sides and bottom of the crust with a fork, so it won’t rise up from the pie plate as it bakes. Place crust into the freezer again and chill for 10 minutes. Then, pre-bake the crust in a preheated 350°F oven for 15 minutes, or until light golden brown. Keep checking on crust as it cooks, so as not to burn the crust. Remove crust from oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Then pour in pie filling and bake in the oven at 350°F for 40 minutes. Allow to cool for another 10 minutes. Slice pie and serve hot or warm, with a scoop of French vanilla soy ice cream on top.

Yield: 1 8”-diameter pie. (About 6-8 servings.)

Chef's Notes: This pie tastes best when it's served hot or warm, with a scoop of (French) vanilla ice cream on top. :) If you are vegan, simply substitute the vanilla ice cream with vanilla soy or coconut milk ice cream.

Friday, June 22, 2012

0 Recipe #310: Aromatic Basmati Rice (Pilau) -- Ready in Only 15 Minutes!

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I made this aromatic side dish (as an accompaniment to chana masala) for both my lunch and dinner guests today and they all really loved it. The guests kept commenting on how good it smelled while it was cooking. And if you make this rice recipe, it'll fill your entire kitchen with its lovely fragrance and just make your whole house smell wonderful too!

And the best part about making this recipe?! It's super easy to make and takes only 15 minutes to cook! You can either make it in a sauce pot or, if you have one, a rice steamer; either way, there's no slicing or dicing. Seriously, there's almost zero kitchen prep. In fact, the latter method is even easier than cooking it on the stove. You basically just wash the rice and then dump everything in the pot, cook using the preset timer, et le voilà, you're done! Can't get much easier than that. :) You get maximum flavor for minimum effort. Gotta love that, eh?!

Aromatic Basmati Rice (Pilau)

2 c. water
1 c. brown basmati rice
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 large bay leaf
3 3" whole cinnamon sticks, broken in half
5 whole cloves
14 whole green cardamom pods
1 tsp. fennel seeds
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground turmeric
1/4 tsp. onion powder
1 1/2 tsp. saffron (or 1 tsp. if you like a less-pronounced saffron flavor), soaked in 2 Tbsp. plain soy milk and then stirred to combine
1/4 tsp. + 1/16 tsp. (a pinch) salt, or to taste
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper, or to taste
1 1/2 Tbsp. fresh cilantro

Stove Top Directions: Wash the rice by placing it into a large strainer, running it under cold water, and then swishing it around until the water runs clear. (This will remove any excess starch coating the rice). Feel free to use your fingers to swirl the rice around in the strainer to ensure the rice is thoroughly washed. Drain and set aside (over a small bowl). Heat olive oil in a medium-sized sauce pot on high heat until glistening. Add whole spices (bay leaf, cinnamon sticks, cloves, cardamom pods, fennel seeds, and cumin seeds), and "flash fry" for 60 seconds to release the spices' essence, covering pot with a splatter screen to avoid being burned by spluttering oil. Reduce heat to low, add rice, and cook for 1 minute more, stirring occasionally. Watch pot closely so the rice doesn't burn; rice will be a light golden brown when ready. (This is done to crisp the rice and keep it from getting soggy as it cooks while immersed in water.) Reduce heat to low, add water and the remaining spices -- minus the cilantro -- and stir. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and simmer for 15 minutes (for al dente rice), or until water has been completely absorbed. (Check on rice after 15 minutes to make sure it hasn't cooked down too quickly. If it needs to cook for longer, add water as necessary.) Remove from heat and let rice rest for about 10 minutes. With a spoon, remove bay leaf, cinnamon sticks, cloves, and cardamom seeds and discard. Fluff rice with a fork, then sprinkle cilantro into the pot, stirring just until combined. Divide into four portions, and serve immediately.

Rice Steamer Directions: Wash the rice by placing it into a large strainer, running it under cold water, and then swishing it around until the water runs clear. (This will remove any excess starch coating the rice). Feel free to use your fingers to swirl the rice around in the strainer to ensure the rice is thoroughly washed. Drain and set aside (over a small bowl). Add olive oil to rice steamer, followed by rice, water, and all spices -- except for the cilantro, in that particular order. Stir once to combine and cover with inner steamer tray and lid. Cook for 15-20 minutes (for al dente rice), or until water has been completely absorbed.* (Check on rice after 15 minutes to make sure it hasn't cooked down too quickly &/or burned on the bottom. If it needs to cook for longer, add water as necessary.) If steamer doesn't have a timer with an auto-shut off feature, turn it off when rice has finished cooking. Let rice rest for about 10 minutes. With a spoon, remove bay leaf, cinnamon sticks, cloves, and cardamom seeds and discard. Fluff rice with a fork, then sprinkle cilantro into the steamer, stirring just until combined. Divide into four portions, and serve immediately.

Yield: 4 servings.

Chef's Notes: *I use a Japanese rice steamer, Zojirushi, which, in my humble opinion, is the gold standard for rice steamers. :) Many, if not most, rice steamers have a built-in timer with an auto-shut-off feature; there's usually a button you can depress to cook the rice that will release with a pop when the rice is done. Typically, this will take about 15-20 minutes, although you can cook it for longer if you like your rice a bit softer than al dente.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

0 Recipe #309: Italian-Style Two-Bean Soup

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I know it's like 90 plus freakin' degrees outside, but yesterday, for some unknown reason, I just felt like having an Italian-style tomato and legume based soup for dinner. Thankfully, this soup is really quick and easy to make, so it didn't really steam up the kitchen at all.

Since I'd already posted twice yesterday, I thought I'd save this recipe for today. :)

Of course, the legumes and tomatoes in this soup recipe are loaded with nutrients: this soup is a great source of healthy protein and carbs, and is also rich in dietary fiber, folate (vitamin B6), iron, ALA (alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid), molybdenum, lycopene, lysine, as well as a variety of other vitamins and minerals. Its many antioxidants have a myriad number of health benefits.

This soup also makes an excellent post-exercise recovery meal for athletes: its protein-rich legumes help to repair the tiny muscle fiber tears that occur during exercise, and its phytonutrients help to reduce post-exercise inflammation; the lycopene and lysine in the tomatoes also contribute to good bone, tendon, and joint health -- another obvious benefit for athletes and other active individuals. :) Plus, lycopene is also good for your eyesight and is thought to prevent muscle degeneration.

In general, this soup has many other health benefits as well: Recent studies indicate that legumes may help with weight management, as legume intake is linked to increased satiety and reduced appetite: in a recent study, participants who regularly ate chickpeas consumed fewer snacks, processed foods, and overall calories. The excellent combination of protein and fiber in legumes is highly beneficial for the digestive tract (particularly the colon) and cardiovascular system, and also improves blood sugar regulation. Legumes lower the risk of type 2 diabetes as well as several types of cancer. Chickpeas, in particular, help to better regulate blood fats; they are useful in lowering LDL-cholesterol, total cholesterol, and triglycerides.

Anyhow, enough with the fact-dispensing and on with the recipe. :)

Italian-style Two-Bean Soup

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp. garlic, peeled and finely minced
2 Tbsp. shallots, peeled and finely minced
1/2 c. yellow onion, peeled and diced (about 1/4 large yellow onion)
1 large bay leaf
1/2 c. red wine (nothing too oaky; I used a Malbec)
2 15.5 oz. cans chickpeas
2 15.5 oz. cans black beans
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
4 c. water
1/2 tsp. salt, or to taste
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
1/8 tsp. red chili pepper flakes (optional)
1 Tbsp. paprika
1 1/2 tsp. dried thyme leaves
1 tsp. dried marjoram leaves
1 tsp. dried oregano leaves
1/2 tsp. dried, crushed rosemary leaves
1/4 tsp. ground tumeric
1/2 c. fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
1 tsp. lemon juice, or to taste
3/8 c. Parmesan cheese (or vegan cheese substitute) (about 1 Tbsp. per serving)

Directions: In a large stock pot, heat olive oil on high until glistening. Reduce heat to low, add garlic, shallots, onions, and bay leaf, and sauté until tender, about 4-5 minutes. Deglaze with red wine and reduce volume by about half. Add chickpeas, black beans, crushed tomatoes, and tomato paste, and stir to combine. Cook for about a minute, stirring continuously, and then pour in water. Add salt, pepper, red chili pepper flakes (if using), paprika, dried thyme leaves, dried marjoram leaves, dried oregano leaves, dried, crushed rosemary leaves, and ground turmeric. Cover and cook for about 10-15 minutes, lifting lid up occasionally check on the soup, and then stirring and adding more water as necessary. Turn off heat and stir in basil. Taste and adjust seasoning accordingly to personal preference. Allow to cool for 5-10 minutes. Remove bay leaf with a slotted spoon and discard. Stir in lemon juice until well-blended. Ladle soup into bowls and immediately garnish with cheese (while the soup is still hot), so that it melts. Serve and enjoy. (Refrigerate or freeze any leftovers.)

Yield: 6 servings of 2 c. each. (Makes almost 3 qts.)

Chef's Notes: If you prefer a thicker soup, let the soup cool and then purée it in a blender (in batches).

0 What's in Store for Today, Tomorrow, & Further Down the Line

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As you may've noticed, I've been creating recipes like crazy lately; the ideas keep spilling out of my head like there's no tomorrow. And, in reality, you're only seeing a fraction of those recipes here, because the rest of them are being saved for multiple books and cookbooks. :) However, I have been sharing a number of those recipes here, so you can get an advance preview of some of the recipes that'll be appearing in the books. The chana masala recipe I posted the other day is one such example.

The books will be a diverse collection of recipes from all over the world; some dishes you might be familiar with, while others you might not. This is intentional, as I'd like to encourage people to explore and branch out a bit, to try new dishes or foods that they might not have tried. Or if they have, maybe they haven't yet tried making them in their own kitchen just yet. Personally, I think it makes things more fun this way, as the cooking process then becomes an exciting adventure. :) I love venturing into territories unknown! Some of the recipes here I've made precisely because, while I'd tasted most of them before at someone's home or in a restaurant, I hadn't made them before myself, that is, until the day I created a recipe for them. So how do I know how to create recipes for these dishes if I've never made them before myself? Well, sometimes it's a process of trial and error, while other times I do my research by tasting good examples of these dishes beforehand and then making mental notes of their flavors. :)

One such example is a piri piri chicken recipe that I wrote a few weeks ago for one of my books. Of course, I've had piri piri (or peri peri) chicken at Nando's like lots of people in the DC area and beyond, but I thought it'd be cool to see if I could replicate their dish in my kitchen. My version comes fairly close. I figure, if I can't quell my Nando's addiction, then maybe I can at least stop breaking the bank by visiting it with alarming frequency. ;) I do usually walk to the restaurant, so at least I burn some calories before and after I eat there. :-D And well, of course you probably already know that if you eat within 30 minutes of exercising, you metabolize the food a lot more efficiently. Yeah, even so, I probably should nip that addiction in the bud. Lol.

Here are some of my upcoming recipe-making adventures: Later on today, I'm going to make a recipe I'd developed earlier in the week -- pineapple meringue pie. Of course, I've had lemon meringue pie before, but I wanted to try making something a bit different this time around. It's for a small dinner party I'm hosting on Friday, and I'm really excited to share it with our guests. Of course, as always, it's going to have zero refined sugar and a lot of health benefits. The filling itself will of course be very low in fat, but the nuts in the crust will contain healthy unsaturated oils packed with Omega 3s. :) Of course, I doubt my guests will be focusing on that as they dig into the desserts. Hahaha.

And speaking of desserts, a few days ago, I also created a mango pie with flavored with cardamom, saffron, and lemon zest. The pie shell is a nut crust that's slightly salty and flavored with a hint of cardamom. That's another dessert I'll be serving for the party as well.

If the cooking and photo shoot sessions progress quickly today, I'm also going to see if there's time to make more lychee dishes as well, since there are still a ton of lychees still sitting in the fridge after yesterday's major pitting and peeling session. Yesterday, I pitted and peeled 71 lychees, and after creating yesterday's recipe, there are now 70, plus a little less fresh lychee juice. ;) So, I've still got all of those to use up soon as well.

Next up, I'm going to post the Italian-style two-bean soup that I made yesterday for dinner. OK, so that's a wrap. Hope you've all been having a great week! :)


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

2 Recipe #308: Blue Fog Cocktail

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Yes, even athletes like to enjoy an occasional cocktail now and then. :) Of course, this one is a "penguin original." :) As you can see from the below recipe, this drink has a lot of tropical flavors. It's in the same vein as a mai tai but the net effect of this particular drink's flavors are completely different.

What makes this "blue fog" cocktail foggy is the addition of coconut milk, which provides athletes and other active individuals with an excellent source of easily burnable but yet sustainable energy. Yes, I just had to squeak something healthy in there. ;) This cocktail also contains some freshly squeezed lime juice, fresh lychees, and fresh lychee juice, all of which are good for you. So that way, you can make yourself feel better about drinking it. Lol. And anyhow, it's all about moderation anyhow, right?!

Lychees just so happen to contain a great deal of vitamin C and beta carotene, and are also rich in fiber. In fact, they have 40% more vitamin C than an orange, and more beta carotene than a carrot! (Beta carotene is an antioxidant and its consumption is believed to lower the risk of cancer.) Lychees contain unsaturated fatty acids that aid in the absorption of phytochemicals like beta cartoene and other fat-soluble vitamins. They are also good for your digestive system, and help prevent blood clots and heart attacks. So, do you need any more convincing that lychees are good for you? :) So, down the hatch, people! :-D

Of course, most people aren't usually thinking about a cocktail's health benefits when they're drinking it, but then again, they haven't run into the likes of me. ;)

And lastly, here's a heads up for those of you who like powerfully strong cocktails: If you're expecting this cocktail to taste like high-octane alcohol, then you are going to be sorely disappointed. ;) I don't like exceptionally strong cocktails, so if you want to pump up the alcohol quotient, then you'll probably need to adjust the recipe somewhat. Personally speaking, I actually like to taste the flavors of a drink, versus being hit over the head with the alcohol contained therein. If all I can taste is alcohol, then I won't be very interested. ;) To me, tasting the flavors of a cocktail is part of the enjoyment of drinking it. I also like the idea of being able to stand upright, without assistance, by the end of the night. :) And on that note, please drink responsibly. This public service message has been brought to you by the penguin campaign for health and safety. :) We penguins tend to waddle a bit anyhow, but it's usually not because we are inebriated. Hahaha.

Blue Fog Cocktail

Drink Ingredients:
7 oz. coconut milk
6 oz. fresh lychee juice (reserved from peeled and pitted fresh lychees)
1 oz. lime juice
2 oz. blue curaçao
1 oz. rum
2 oz. triple sec
2 oz. crème de cassis
1/2 c. crushed ice (or ice cubes)

3 lychees, peeled and pitted (1 lychee per drink)
3 orange peel curls (1 curl per drink)

Directions: Place all drink ingredients into a martini shaker, close tightly, and shake vigorously. Pour into martini glasses, garnishing each drink with a lychee and an orange peel curl. Serve immediately and enjoy!

Yield: Makes 3 cocktails (when served in a martini glass).

Chef's Notes: I like to use a double jigger and a shot glass to make this drink. For the uninitiated, a standard-sized double jigger has a small, 1 fl. oz. jigger on one side and a larger, 1.5 fl. oz on the other. A standard size shot glass is typically 2 oz.

Don't know how to make an orange peel curl? No worries, click here to watch an instructional video showing you exactly how to do this.

0 Lychees, Lychees, and More Lychees!

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Think I went a bit overboard with the lychee buying. Ya think? :)

The other day I went to Grand Mart and saw that were having a special on fresh lychees. Every time I go there, I'm always on the lookout for fresh lychees but have walked out empty-handed every single time, except, of course, for the other day. (And I shop there a LOT.) There was a HUGE supermarket display bin with about a zillion lychees, so of course I was so excited that I just dived right in and grabbed a few zillion, as you can see from the above photo. :) At that very moment, I swear, a little voice inside my head was screaming, "Jackpot!!!!" I felt like jumping up and down right there and then in the supermarket, but somehow managed to contain myself. ;) After all, a grown woman leaping for joy in the supermarket might cause a bit of a scene. Lol.

After surprising a good friend of mine with a large bag of lychees (because she loves them just as much as I do!), I took the remainder home and starting dreaming up new recipes that, big surprise, incorporated lychees. :) So, today has been a day of creating lychee dishes.

Earlier today, I peeled and pitted 71 fresh lychees. Now that's not a sentence you hear everyday. ;) So what will I be doing with all of them? I'll be making a bunch of different desserts, perhaps a savory dish of some sort, and also some sort of cocktail, which will be made and consumed sometime later tonight as a "reward" for all of the recipe writing and cooking I'm about to do today. ;)

Have you ever tried a fresh lychee? They are so juicy and refreshing tasting! Also, fresh lychees taste SO much better than the canned ones; plus they're much healthier for you because they're not drenched in a ton of sugar syrup. Once you've had fresh, you'll never go back. :)

So where can you find fresh lychees? If you have access to an Asian market or international grocery store, that's probably your best bet. They can typically be found in large international supermarkets like Grand Mart, (which is a chain with locations in LA and throughout the Greater DC area). You might also be able to find them in some of the smaller Asian grocers too. However, if you don't have access to stores like this, you can always order them online. For instance, I do know that carries them. And if you're really a super huge lychee fan, you could always buy the seeds or some trees and plant them in your backyard. :)

If you'd like to read more about lychees -- their history, cultivation, uses, etc. -- click here to read more about them.

Next up, a cocktail recipe made with fresh lychees, with more lychee recipes yet to come. :)

Saturday, June 16, 2012

0 Recipe #307: Chana Masala

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Chana masala, also sometimes referred to as chole masala, is a savory, tangy chickpea and tomato dish commonly found on most (Northern) Indian and Pakistani restaurant menus. It's particularly popular in the Northwest Indian states of Punjab, Gujarat, and Rajasthan. And, it's one of my favorite Indian dishes.

Chana masala has a somewhat sour, lemony flavor, due to the addition of dried mango powder, or amchur (sometimes spelled amchoor) in Hindi. Consistency of this dish can vary from thin and "soupy" to thick and creamy, depending upon the chef. I personally prefer the latter version, which is why I've added lite coconut milk as a thickening agent, versus the more traditional addition of cream. In general, traditional Indian cooking often calls for cream, and often lots of it, and the standard, much denser rendition of the sauce in this dish is no different. However, as you can see from the tagline at the top of this page, this site's theme is "healthy gourmet," so you probably already knew that I wasn't about to do that. :) The great thing about the addition of the coconut milk is that it essentially achieves the same effect as the cream in terms of flavor, texture, and overall consistency; it brings the same richness and depth of flavor, but without any of the accompanying health issues that go along with the consumption of animal-based saturated fats. :) (I won't go into coconut's myriad benefits here, but you're welcome to check out some related blurbs in some of my other recipe posts that briefly address this topic by visiting here, here, and here.) Not only is the coconut milk a lot healthier, but it also complements the chana perfectly; its flavor blends seamlessly with the other ingredients (so much so that you can't even taste it) and it just makes this dish taste divine!

Chana Masala

1 Tbsp. extra virgin coconut oil
2 c. vidalia (or yellow) onion, peeled and diced (about 1 medium onion)
2 Tbsp. fresh ginger (root), peeled and julienned into 1"-long matchsticks*
1 Tbsp. garlic, peeled and finely minced
2 15.5 oz. can chickpeas (i.e., garbanzo beans)
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
3 Tbsp. tomato paste
1/2 c. lite coconut milk
2 Tbsp. garam masala (see below for recipe)
1/2 Tbsp. amchur (dried mango powder), or to taste (if unavailable, substitute 1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice, or to taste)**
1/4 tsp. ground turmeric
1 1/2 c. whole fresh vine-ripened tomatoes, diced (about 2 1/2 small tomatoes)
1/4 tsp. salt, or to taste
1/2 c. fresh cilantro, roughly chopped

Garam Masala Ingredients:***
1/2 Tbsp. ground cumin
1/2 Tbsp. ground coriander
3/4 tsp. ground cardamom
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1/8 tsp. ground clove
3/8 tsp. finely crushed bay leaves
1/4 tsp. ground cayenne pepper (or to taste)

Directions: Add all garam masala ingredients to a small bowl and mix until well combined. Set aside. Heat extra virgin coconut oil in a large (12-13") sauté pan on medium heat until glistening. Reduce heat to low and add diced onions and ginger matchsticks and sauté until tender, about 3 minutes. Add garlic next and cook an additional 2 minutes. Next, add chick peas, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, and coconut milk, and stir until well combined. Stir in garam masala, amchur, tumeric, and reduce liquid in pan by 1/4 of its original volume. Be sure to still continually, so that sauce doesn't burn or stick to the bottom of the pan. Next, add vine-ripened tomatoes, season with salt, and continue to cook just until tomatoes soften a bit. Be careful not to overcook tomatoes; they should still maintain their form and color, and still have a slight crunch to them when you've finished cooking. (If the mixture cooks down too quickly, add water as necessary, a 1/4 c. at a time.) When finished, remove from heat, mix in fresh chopped cilantro, and divide into equal portions. Top with raita if so desired, and serve with Aromatic Basmati Rice (Pilau) &/or fresh, warm naan.

Yield: About 6 c., or 6-8 servings.

Chef's Notes: If you are going to serve the chana masala with rice, then I'd recommend making the rice while the chana is cooking, to save time.

*The easiest way to peel ginger is by scraping off the skin with the edge of a spoon. Works even better than a peeler, because it won’t take as much ginger with it when you go to peel the skin.

**If you can't find amchur locally (in an Indian grocery store), then you can always order it online. If, for whatever reason, you'll be substituting lemon juice for the amchur, then be sure to add it towards the end. Lemon juice's chemical composition becomes altered with heat, and will thus affect the other ingredients it comes into contact with in the pan.

***There are 5 zillion different garam masala recipes. This one is particular to North Indian cuisine, and was specifically created to complement this dish. To save time, I'd recommend making the garam masala in advance and storing it in an air-tight container in a dark, dry place. If you use garam masala on a regular basis, I'd recommend quadrupling the recipe, which'll make a 1/2 cup, and storing it in your cupboard for future use.

Chana masala is also sometimes made with crushed/powdered pomegranate seeds (called anardana in Hindi, which is originally a word of Persian extraction that literally means "pomegranate seed"). Sometimes coriander seeds and red chilies are also used to make this dish. I left out the chilies because, for most people, this dish is probably hot enough as is, which, in other words, means "not actually very hot at all." ;) I'd barely give it a 1/2 chili rating on "the penguin's piquancy" scale. :-D

Saturday, June 9, 2012

0 Recipe #306: Quick & Easy Italian-style Beet Greens

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Remember when I said, just a few hours ago, that there would be more beet & beet green recipes? Well, see?! What did I tell you? To paraphrase Daniel Day Lewis, "There will be beets." ;)

Earlier today, (er, that'd be yesterday now, due to the fact that it's now 1:11 am on Saturday), I made beet and fennel soup for lunch, and then had Italian-style beet greens for dinner. What can I say, I had to use up the beets. Needed the extra room in the fridge. :) These dishes were very filling, so believe it or not, that's all I really ate for those meals. Yes, that's the power of veggie fiber. :) Fills you up for a long time and keeps you going!

So, since it's rather late (er, early), I'm going to dispense with the usual exposition and just dive right into the recipe. After all, a chef has to sleep sometime. :)

Quick & Easy Italian-style Beet Greens

8 c. beet greens, thoroughly rinsed and chopped into 3" long pieces
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/8 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. black ground pepper
1/8 tsp. crushed red chili pepper flakes
1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 c. Parmesan cheese, shredded (or vegan cheese substitute) (1 Tbsp. per serving)

Directions: Place steamer basket on the bottom of a large stock pot. Then add water and bring to a rolling boil (on high heat). (Cover the pot to boil faster.) Then lift up lid and add beet greens. Cover again with lid, and cook for about 7-10 minutes, or until beet greens have just began to wilt but still retain their bright green color. When ready, drain into a colander, making sure to squeeze out excess water, and transfer to a large bowl. Add all remaining ingredients, except for the cheese and toss. Divide into equal portions and garnish each serving with 1 Tbsp. Parmesan cheese (or vegan substitute). Be sure to add cheese while the beet greens are hot, so that it melts. Serve immediately.

Yield: 4 servings (as a side dish).

Alternate Ingredient Suggestions: This dish would taste really good with kalamata olives and sun-dried tomatoes. If you do decide to use the olives, just be sure to nix the salt from the recipe since the olives are salty enough as is.

Friday, June 8, 2012

0 Recipe #305: Beet & Fennel Soup -- Creamy & Refreshing!

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I bought a ton of beets the other day, i.e., about 4 large bunches. So today, it was time to figure out what to do with them. :) When picking out beets, I'm always on the lookout for the ones that have beautiful, intact beet greens, as the greens taste really delicious too (i.e., similar to spinach) and can be used in a multitude of dishes.

Even though there are a handful of other beet (and beet green) recipes on this site, of course, I wanted to create something new. :) These days, I've pretty gotten used to not repeating myself in the kitchen, mostly because I've got a few books to write now, and all of those books need new recipes. :-D

Been on a roll with the beet buying for some reason, probably because the weather's gotten hot again, and cold beets taste super-refreshing. The previous week I also bought beets and made Beet, Blood Orange, and Rocket Salad with Shaved Fennel, Red Onion, Walnuts, & Blue Cheese (Tossed in a Balsamic Vinaigrette). That's one of the recipes that'll most likely make an appearance in one of my upcoming books. :)

So, anyhow, below is the recipe I created from the multiple bundles of beets stored in my fridge. There will probably be another beet recipe, along with a beet greens recipe following this one at some point soon. After all, there are still leftover beets, plus a TON of beet greens. :)

Beet & Fennel Soup

12 c. water (for soup broth), plus more for boiling beets
3 1/2 lbs. beets, unpeeled and uncooked ( i.e., 3 large bunches of beets) (makes about 8 c. cooked, chopped beets)
1 c. onion, peeled and chopped (about 1 small onion)
2 1/2 c. fennel, chopped (about 1/2 medium-sized fennel bulb)
1 large bay leaf
1/2 tsp. salt, or to taste
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1/4 c. fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley, finely minced
1/2 c. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 1/2 c. organic unsweetened (i.e., plain) soy milk*

Directions: First of all, before you do anything, put on latex or rubber gloves, unless you are intentionally trying to dye your hands pink. ;) Also, don't forget an apron, and seriously, people, now is not the time to wear your favorite outfit underneath. :) Fill a gigantic stock pot with water, turn heat up to high, cover, and bring to a rolling boil. While you're waiting for the water to boil, thoroughly wash and rinse beets. (Beets tend to have a lot of silt and other debris on them, so it's important to wash and rinse them well.) Set them aside. Do NOT peel them. When water is at a full boil, lift up lid and gingerly place each (unpeeled) beet into the pot, one at a time, using a slotted spoon. Do NOT plop them into the water (remember, they are dense, and drop like lead weights), or you'll most likely scream from the blowback. ;) (Not that I have experience in this area or anything. Lol.) Cover again with lid and cook for 20 minutes, or until tender and easily pierceable with a fork. While the beets are cooking, prep all of the other ingredients (chop onion, fennel, and parsley; squeeze lemon juice, etc.). When beets have finished cooking, uncover and drain them into a colander and then thoroughly wash out the pot to get rid of any remaining silt. Rinse beets with cold water and allow them to cool. Place pot back onto stove. Add 12 c. water to the pot and bring to a rolling boil. When beets are completely cool to the touch, remove the skin from the beets; if you've cooked the beets until they're tender, the skin should peel away easily. Again, do this while wearing gloves. :) Roughly chop beets and set aside. When water has come to a rolling boil, add onion, fennel, and bay leaf. Cover once more with lid and cook until tender. Then add 8 c. beets and the parsley, season with salt and pepper, and cook for a few minutes more. Allow to completely cool, then discard bay leaf. Next, add lemon juice and soy milk to the pot, stir to combine, and then transfer, in batches to a blender. Blend each batch until smooth, transferring the soup to a large container with a lid. Chill in refrigerator and serve cold.

Yield: About 3 quarts.

Chef's Notes: *Soy milk: Whatever you do, do NOT use flavored soy milk! Also, be aware that sometimes even lite soy milk, like Silk Lite, for example, can have added vanilla flavor. Read the ingredients just to be on the safe side. You don't want your beet soup to taste like vanilla, or heaven forbid, chocolate. Eeeeeewwwww. :) It's pretty safe to say that there's a good chance you probably won't like either combination. Trust me on this. :-D So, if you use the flavored milk, don't blame me if your recipe doesn't turn out. Lol.

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