Jan 31, 2016

Kashmiri Tao Mooj (Fried Radish Chutney)

Mooj means radish and tao means to stir-fry in Kashmiri. This authentic recipe is a fiery hot and savory chutney from the vale of Kashmir. Daikon radish is grated and simmered with onions, fresh cilantro, and green chilis until tender. Then a pinch of turmeric and a hefty dollop of Kashmiri mirch is added for rich color and traditional chili flavor. Excellent with kebabs, tandoori, or as an accompaniment to any rice or roti based meal.

I know this recipe sounds odd but it's really delicious! If you love hot and spicy food and are looking for a new way to use daikon radish definitely give this a try. Stir-frying the daikon radish makes it quite tender and mellows it's bite just a bit in this chutney. Onions lend their umami boost, cilantro brings it's brightness, green chilis give an herbaceous heat, and red chili powder lends it's rich color and flavor to this tasty relish. Such a simple and delicious way to prepare daikon radish, the hardest part is all the grating!

All grated, chopped, cleaned & ready to go.
1/4 C cooking oil (mustard oil if you wish to be authentic)
3 C peeled & grated daikon radish/moolah
1 C grated onion
3 TBS chopped cilantro/dhania leaves
3 green chilis, chopped roughly
2 tsp Kashmiri mirch (or 1 tsp cayenne + 1 tsp paprika)
1/4 tsp turmeric
2 tsp salt

Here's what to do:
1) Over medium high heat in a heavy bottomed skillet or kadhai mix grated radish, grated onion, chopped cilantro, chopped green chilis, salt, and cooking oil of choice. 

All mixed & ready to fry over medium heat.
2) Allow to fry covered for 14 to 15 minutes, stir every 3 to 4 minutes to make sure mixture does not scorch or burn.

3) When onions and radish are translucent and oil has separated from the mixture add the Kashmiri mirch and turmeric, stir well until completely mixed. Allow to fry for 2 minutes longer, keep stirring so that mixture does stick or scorch.

4) Salt to taste and serve warm or cold.

Helpful Hints:

Keeps well when refrigerated in an airtight container for up to a week. Makes about 1 and 1/2 cups of chutney.

If you don't care for cilantro/dhania try 3 TBS of fresh chopped mint/pudina or 2 TBS of dried mint instead.

Jan 29, 2016

Gai Jatra

Gai Yatra means "festival of the cows"in Nepali.

It is held in the fortnight of Gunla in the Nepalese month of Badra which usually falls between August and September. The festival commemorates the dead of the previous year. This Gai Jatra took place on August 30th, 2015.

What do cows have to do with recently deceased folks, you ask? 
Well, in Hinduism the cow is a holy animal who can help lead the deceased on their long journey to heaven, or perhaps a more fortuitous next life. 

The Gai Jatra has it's roots in the ancient Nepali worship of Yamaraj, the feared god of death. Ancient participants in the Gai Jatra would lead a cow through the streets in a very somber procession to aid a deceased relative. It is said that the medieval King Pratap Malla of Nepal changed the melancholy tone of the festival when his son died. His queen was quite grief stricken over the death of her son. The king promised a great reward for anyone who could make the queen laugh again. When the Gai Jatra procession came before the queen the participants began lampooning and ridiculing the members of the court, eventually the queen could not help but laugh. So buffoonery, silly songs, and jokes have become a tradition in this festival of commemorating the dead. Gai Jatra reminds living souls of the inevitability of death as well as aiding dear departed relatives on their journey to a "good life after death" in the Hindu sense.

Usually there are cows in the procession, or at least a boy dressed as a cow complete with horns and tail made of rice straw. No cows nor cow substitutes were in attendance at this Gai Jatra despite the heavy death toll of the two earthquakes here earlier this year. There were plenty of angels, clowns, devils, small marching band,  and a goddess incarnate or two though.

Gai Yatra
Looking quite celestial, dear angels!

Gai yatra
Oh my. It would seem we have some archangels here and perhaps a even goddess incarnate in the middle. (You can tell by the "fire eye" on the forehead of the supernatural presence with the poinsettia on her head that she's a goddess. She might even be an incarnation of Telegu, the famous living goddess who has her tiny palace in Kathmandu! )
Nepali festival
This angel doesn't seem to like it's picture being taken.
I suppose angels come in all sorts too.
Nepali festival
Some rather glamorous angels in every hue.
Nepal Gai Yatra
This angel had peacock feather wings.
 I think the rose in her hair is a much better choice than those tedious halos, don't you?

Gai Jatraa festival
A clown who looks like he's just come from a Grateful Dead concert at the Shoreline Amphitheater.
This angel looks likes she's had enough clowning around, as well as monsoon heat & humidity.
Jai Nepal!

Jan 27, 2016

5 Minute Cowpat Cookies

simple no bake cocoa peanut butter oats cookie veg vegan

Yes, I did write "Cowpat Cookies." When you look at these cookies you can see why. Not the prettiest things, are they? I do promise these are the quickest, tastiest, no bake cookies you'll ever eat though! Kids absolutely love them. What's more fun than eating a cookie that looks like a cowpat? They're eggless (and therefore properly "veg" in the Subcontinental sense) and make a great tea time or after school treat.

1 C sugar
1/4 C milk
1/4 C butter or ghee
2 TBS unsweetened cocoa powder
pinch of salt
1/4 C peanut butter
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 C shredded coconut (optional can use nuts, raisins, M& M's or any other chopped dried fruit too )
1&1/2 C rolled oats (or quick cooking oats)

Here's what to do: 
Measured oats & coconut in bowl.

1) In a bowl measure out oats and coconut, set aside.

Measured & ready to boil.
2) In a heavy bottomed sauce pan combine sugar, milk, butter or ghee, unsweetened cocoa powder, salt, peanut butter, and vanilla. Over medium heat bring mixture to boil while stirring frequently. Allow mixture to continue to boil for 1 minute while stirring continuously. Remove from heat.

It's boiling!
Keep stirring!

3) Pour bowl of pre-measured oats and coconut into pan with hot mixture. Stir hot mixture, oats, and coconut with until they are evenly combined.

Mixed & ready to scoop.

4) Scoop mixture by tablespoonful onto waxed paper or silicone mat. Cookies will be soft while warm but will firm up when cooled. (If you can stop eating them until they are cool that is.) Makes about 15 cookies.


We tried rolling some into balls like laddoos.
The mixture became too crumbly as it cooled though.
I guess you could call these "laddon'ts?"

Helpful Hints:
This recipe works well with other cereals besides oats. I've made these with equal amounts of crispy rice cereal, bran flakes, and even muesli. You could say I'm a "cereal entrepreneur." It's all good!

Not fond of coconut? Use a 1/2 C of any sort of nuts, raisins, M& M's or any other chopped dried fruit that you think will go nicely with chocolate. Or a mixture of all of the above!

Jan 25, 2016

Tips & Tools: The Great Indian Pressure Cooker

Indian pressure cooking
The Hawkins "Classic" 5 liter pressure cooker.
Minus an original side handle where that screw is sticking out.


You can hear the terrifying hiss of this basic brute of a pressure cooker releasing steam in kitchens all across South Asia.  It it used to cook goat (mutton), beans, lentils, peas, curries, halwas, sabzi (vegetables), biryanis, pulaos - just about everything. I've even seen cakes baked in pressure cookers.  It is a great time & fuel saver as it allows cooking time to be reduced to about a third of how long it would take to cook food in an open pot. Various claims are made that pressure cooking food reduces loss of nutrients, but I'm not sure there's any proof of that.

It is a very simple design with a lid secured by a latch on the handle, a single steam vent with a pressure regulator over it, & a rubber gasket creating the seal between the lid & internal rim of the pot-

Indian cooking pressue
The latched lid with rubber gasket & pressure regulator over vent assembled.

aluminum pressure cooker
The latched lid, the rubber gasket seal, & the pressure regulator that fits over the steam vent dissembled. As you can see it comes apart for cleaning & that rubber gasket does need to be replaced over time.

The inside is just like a regular pot, the aluminum does become pitted with use-

Indian aluminum pressure cooker
This pressure cooker is 8 years old & is quite pitted from daily use.

The simple latch & rubber gasket that holds the lid in place-

Indian pressure cooker aluminum
Unlatched, lid unsealed. 

Indian pressure cooker aluminum
Latched, lid sealed, & ready to go.
The lid is secured under the internal rim & sealed with the rubber gasket. 

The only pressure cookers I had ever seen or used before moving to South Asia were the huge sort used for canning with gauges, pressure settings, racks, & screw down seals. This thing looked terrifying. Unsafe. Even when it wasn't making it's fearsome hissing noise. How do you know what the pressure or temperature is inside this thing without a gauge?  Just a rubber gasket under the rim & a simple latch hold the lid of this thing on? Are you kidding me?

Well, the answer is- 
No you don't know what the temperature or pressure is inside this thing. 
You just have to learn as you go with an Indian pressure cooker.
How hot does an Indian pressure get inside?
Well, lets just say I've seen these used in rural hospital settings as autoclaves for sterilizing instruments all over South Asia. 

 Quick Tips On Using An Indian Pressure Cooker-

1) The pressure cooker needs liquid to make the steam & pressure that cooks the food. Make sure before you seal the pressure cooker up there's at least an inch of liquid with what you're cooking or you'll end up with a scorched disaster.

2) If you don't put the lid on properly, steam will leak out & you'll never get enough pressure to cook food in a shortened amount of time. If you see steam leaking out around the edges of the lid, remove the pressure cooker from the heat & adjust lid until it seals properly. Sometimes running the lid under cold water before replacing helps to create the tight seal necessary for pressure cooking. There's a bit of a trick to tilting the lid just right to get it to seal- practice makes perfect!

3) The only way to stop the cooking process once this thing gets cooking is to remove it from the heat, run it under cold water in the sink until you hear the seal go "SHLURP"! Only then can you safely remove the lid to see what's going on in there.

4) Be sure not to fill the pressure cooker more than 2/3's full or whatever you're cooking will overflow through the top vent. What you're cooking will expand when heated & room is necessary for the steam to form & build pressure.

Quick Tips On Choosing An Indian Pressure Cooker-

Materials- Indian style pressure cookers are available in aluminum, stainless steel, hard anodized aluminum, & even plastic pressure cookers are available for use in microwaves.  Aluminum is the cheapest, the lightest, & the material that cooks the most even. Stainless steel is easier to clean & does not pit or corrode, but despite an aluminum core bottom they're prone to 'hot spots' & uneven heating which cause foods to burn & stick. Hard anodized aluminum pressure cookers are nice, but you will have to hide it from your maid or anyone else who may unwittingly damage the finish by scrubbing it with steel wool. 

Style- Simplest is best. I chose the Hawkins Classic in aluminum because it is the least complicated. I had a Prestige stainless steel deluxe model with their 'exclusive double locking system' that quickly met a tragic end.  The lid was destroyed in a week by a well intentioned maid & the assistance of a teenaged male relative who couldn't understand how to properly open the Prestige's 'exclusive double locking system'. The stainless steel Prestige cooker also had the dreaded 'hot spots' & would scorch dals & sauces quite easily.

Size- The 5 liter size is perfectly adequate if you're cooking for 3-5 people daily. The 2 liter size is so small it's useless. Anything larger than 5 liters takes so long to cook things it kind of defeats the purpose of pressure cooking in the first place, & they tend to cook a bit unevenly. I have three of the 5 liter Hawkins Classics. I cook 2 meals daily for 5 people. I have also cooked for dinner parties as large as 16 people in my home using just these three 5 liter pressure cookers & 2 kadhais with no problems. 

If you live in a western country-

You probably aren't cooking any meats that are as tough & fibrous as the 'mutton' (goat) that is favored in South Asia so you probably don't need a pressure cooker. You can probably buy canned beans, chickpeas, or lentils quite inexpensively also, so you really don't need a pressure cooker for those either. You probably don't care for your vegetables cooked to mush as they do on the Subcontinent, so once again, you don't need a pressure cooker. A large, deep, heavy bottomed skillet or Dutch oven will do just fine for most South Asian dishes you wish to cook. A slow cooker like a 'crock pot' might be a better choice if you wish to cook goat/mutton or even water buffalo.

Any questions?
Feel free to ask them in the comments section down below.
Keep calm & curry on!

Jan 24, 2016

Ingredients: Shahi Jeera, Black Cumin, Himali Jeera, Koshur Zur. Kala Jeera, Kashmiri Jeera, Kala Zeera

Shahi jeera, black cumin, Kashmiri jeera

This is the uncommon spice variously called shahi jeera, black cumin, Kashmiri jeera, Himali jeera, Koshur zur, or kala jeeraShahi means royal or fit for a king. Shah is a word of Persian derivative and means high king. If you add an "i" to the end of any Hindi or Urdu noun it becomes an adjective. Jeera (or zeera in Urdu) means cumin and is a word of Persian origin meaning fragrant or of pleasant aroma. So "shahi jeera" translates to "royal cumin."

Bunium persicum
The shahi jeera or black cumin plant (Bunium persicum) is native to northern India and Central Asia. It prefers the dry, scrubby slopes of the Himalayas or the mountains of Central Asia. It is a perennial plant that grows to two feet in height. What looks like seeds are actually the tiny fruits of Bunium persicum. The roots are also cooked and eaten eaten in Kashmir and have the taste of sweet chestnuts.

Flowers of Bunium persicum
(The shahi jeera plant)
The flavor of shahi jeera/black cumin seeds is very similar to the earthy notes of cumin but somewhat milder. It also has a bit of herbaceous note and a mildly astringent tang. When cooked the flavor becomes slightly nutty and will not overpower a dish with earthiness as cumin can do.

Pahalgam Valley, Kashmir
Kashmir is the only region in India where shahi jeera/black cumin is cultivated. The Mughals summered in the high valleys of Kashmir to escape the miserable heat of the monsoon season on the Indian plains. The seeds of shahi jeera/black cumin were quite popular with the Mughals and featured in many dishes of the royal court.

Caraway seeds and nigella seeds are NOT the same as shahi jeera/black cumin. I see a lot of confusion on Indian cooking blogs and in Indian cookbooks about the spice shahi jeera. Indian cooking blogs and cookbooks often incorrectly suggest caraway seeds as a substitute for  shahi jeera. I've seen nigella seeds often mislabeled or being sold as shahi jeera in India a lot too. They are somewhat similar in appearance, but all are from different plants and have completely different flavors.

Shahi jeera/black cumin close up for comparison-

 shahi jeera, black cumin, Kashmiri jeera, Himali jeera, Koshur zur, or kala jeera.
Shahi Jeera/Black cumin
Caraway seeds are from the plant Carum carvi and have an aromatic flavor that's a combination of mild licorice-y anise with a dash of dill and carrot. Caraway seeds are native to Europe and are responsible for the unique flavor in rye bread. I just bought a loaf of rye bread from the local German bakery and it reeks of shahi jeera not caraway. YUK.

These are caraway seeds.

Nigella seeds/kalonji are from the plant Nigella sativa. Often confusingly called black cumin or onion seeds these matte black pyramidal shaped seeds taste like oregano.

These are nigella or kalonji seeds.

Just for comparison here are some ordinary cumin/jeera seeds which are also called "white cumin" -

Cumin/jeera seeds

Helpful hints:
A good substitute for shahi jeera just would be cumin in a lesser amount. Cumin is closest in flavor to shahi jeera but much stronger. Do NOT use caraway seeds or nigella/kalonji as they have entirely different flavor.

Jan 21, 2016

Kerala Style Mutton Curry

A spicy, savory, and rich coconut milk based curry from the south coast of India. Quite simple to make but very delicious. If you're new to making curries, this is a great beginning recipe to try.  A family favorite, we enjoy this dish nearly once a week. This recipe also works well with lamb, beef or water buffalo.

1 kg/ 2lbs lean mutton/goat, cut into 3 inch pieces
3 TBS coconut oil or cooking oil of choice
1 C onions, sliced finely into half moons
3 green chilis/hari mirch, chopped 
1/2 C  tomatoes, finely diced
1/2 C cilantro/dhania, chopped & cleaned
1 can (400ml) coconut milk
Mix with 2 TBS water to make smooth paste:
1 TBS ginger/adrak paste
1 TBS garlic/lahsun paste
2 TBS ground coriander/dhania
2 tsp garam masala
2 tsp Kashmiri mirch ( or 1 tsp paprika + 1 tsp cayenne) 
1/2 tsp turmeric/haldi
1 TBS lime juice
2 tsp salt

Here's what to do:

1) Make a paste of the ginger, garlic, coriander, garam masala, Kashmiri mirch, turmeric, lime juice, salt, and 2 TBS water. Set aside. 

2) Heat oil in pressure cooker, kadhai or deep heavy bottomed skillet for 5 minutes. Fry onions until just beginning to turn brown.
3) Add tomatoes and green chilis to onions in pan, fry for 5 to 7 minutes or until tomatoes are softened. 
4) Stir in spice paste and allow to fry for 3 minutes. Add meat pieces, stir well to coat meat in spice and onion mixture. Allow to fry for 5 minutes. 
5) Add chopped cilantro leaves, coconut milk, and 1/2 C water. Stir well and bring to simmer. If using pressure cooker: seal and allow to steam for 5-6 whistles for mutton/goat or water buffalo, 3 whistles for lamb or beef. Salt to taste and serve.

Helpful Hints:
If you do not have a pressure cooker and wish to make this recipe with mutton/goat or water buffalo, I would not cook it in a skillet or kadhai. It will take hours until the meat is tender. A better choice would be to use a crock pot or slow cooker after step six.

Making a paste of the powdered spices, ginger, and garlic with water and lime juice prevents scorching of the spices when added to hot oil.

This dish is a good example of the traditional "layering" of flavors in curries-
First the onions are browned a bit, then the tomatoes and green chilis are added and softened, then the spices are stirred in allowing them to mellow with the heat before adding the mutton. Finally the coconut and cilantro are stirred in. The flavors of all the various 'layers' are then melded together in the final cooking.

Oh I wanna go back to my little grass shack in Keralaaaa!!!
With the coconut trees blowin' in the breeze all dayyyy!!!

Jan 19, 2016

They Call It Mellow Yellow, Quite Rightly...

More flowers from my winter garden for those suffering in colder climes-

This is Tecoma stans which is in the trumpet vine or Bignoniaceae family. 
It's actually a 12 foot tall tree, not a vine.

It has beautiful blue green foliage & puts out yellow bouquets of blossoms all year long.
The Thunbergia or black-eyed Susan vine used the wild yam vine as a trellis this year.

Thunbergia is fairly pest free here & freely reseeds.
I think I'll try pairing it with a purple hyacinth bean vine next year.

Some dwarf sulphur yellow snapdragons from China.
Saffron yellow marigolds & a raggedy looking butterfly.
Yes, we have butterflies in the Himalayas all winter long.

French brocade marigolds are favorites of mine.
Love those saffron picotee edges. I'm just mad about saffron....

Sorry, couldn't find any "electrical bananas" but they're bound to be the very next phase!
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