Feb 29, 2016

Ingredients: Mustard Oil

Mustard growing wild in the neighbors' winter wheat.

Mustard oil is traditionally used in many of the cuisines of South Asia.  It's distinctive pungent flavor is easily recognizable in the spicy pickles called "achaari" that are popular throughout the Indian subcontinent. Mustard oil is also used for deep frying pakoras and as a general cooking oil in many Desi cuisines. 

Bibi's infrequently used bottle of mustard oil.
Mustard oil is produced by grinding the seeds of the black mustard plant (Brassica nigra), the brown mustard plant (Brassica juncea), or the white mustard plant (Brassica hirta). Mustard oil's pungent flavor is due to the presence of allyl isothiocyanate, all plants in the Brassicaceae family such as horseradish, wasabi, cabbage, and turnips share this potent organosulfur compound's flavor. Along with it's sharp, nutty aspects there's really no way to describe the flavor of raw mustard oil without comparing it to the nose watering and rather caustic notes of wasabi and horseradish.

Brassica hirta or white mustard
The very same mustard that blooms throughout my native California in February  & March
Mustard oil has high levels of alpha-linolenic and erucic acids. While alpha-linoleic acid is one of the two essential fatty acids necessary for health, erucic acid is toxic in high doses. Studies done on rats in the 1970's demonstrated the cardiotoxic effects and perhaps some carcenogenic potential with high erucic acid intake. However, it has since been found that rats digest vegetable oils differently than humans. There have never been any documented reports of harm to humans due to high erucic acid via dietary intake. Mustard oil is not allowed to be imported or sold in the United States for use in cooking due to it's high erucic acid content.

Mustard seeds being ground for oil in India.
In order to reduce mustard oil's pungent flavor many cultures of South Asia heat the oil to smoking point in large quantities to "crack" it. I've seen this done in my Kashmiri relatives' homes. Not only does it terrify me to have a huge pot of smoking oil over a gas flame, the smoke produced is highly irritating to the eyes and airways. When I wish to reduce the pungent flavor of mustard oil I just dilute it with ghee or some other cooking oil. For pickles or achaari the pungent flavor of mustard oil is essential so there's no need to crack it. The use of mustard oil has significantly decreased in South Asia as other vegetable oils have become cheaper and more widely available.

Feb 28, 2016

Shortcut Gulab Jamun

Who doesn't love a gulab jamun?
Making this traditional sweet treat is a snap with this shortcut recipe. This simple recipe using bread and milk to make gulab jamuns was all over the internet a few years back, so I am not sure where it originated. I've embellished it a bit by infusing the milk used for the gulab jamuns with Kashmiri saffron. The saffron not only imbues the gulab jamuns with it's rich flavor and color, but also lends it's golden hue to the syrup as the gulab jamuns steep. 

bread sweet Indian cardamom saffron.

2 C water
2 C sugar
7 green cardamoms, bruised in mortar and pestle
1 loaf sliced white bread
1/4 to 1/3 C milk
20 strands of saffron (optional)
4 C cooking oil
4-5 drop kewra or rose water (optional)

Here's what to do:
1) If using saffron, heat milk in a saucepan until almost boiling. Remove from heat. Place saffron strands in milk and allow to steep for at least 20 minutes. (Try to use as little milk as possible, I used 1/4 C on a small 12 slice loaf of bread.) If not using saffron skip to step 4 and use plain milk,

Come on little strands of sunshine, do your thang!
2) To make the syrup heat water, sugar, and green cardamoms in a medium saucepan until boiling.  Reduce heat and let simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

3) Chop crusts off of bread slices.

4) Place a small bowl of water nearby. Drizzle each slice of bread with the saffron infused milk and squidge into a ball. Try to use as little milk as possible. Squeeze out as much milk as you can to form a dense ball. Get the outside of the ball of dough as smooth as you can by dipping your hands into the bowl of water as you roll them. If you have any cracks in the surface your gulab jamuns will be pockmarked and bumpy.

5) Heat cooking oil in a deep saucepan or kadhai over medium high heat until 300F/150C. Test the heat of the oil by frying a cube of bread, if the bread bubbles and turns brown in 30 seconds the oil is ready.
That  looks more like a fried caterpillar than a bread crust.
6) Place 4 balls in hot oil at a time, they will sink to the bottom at first but slowly rise to the surface. Allow them to fry for about 4 minutes, gently turning them until they are deep brown on all sides. Remove the fried balls with a slotted spoon or tongs and transfer to a napkin or paper towel on a plate to drain off excess oil.

7) When all the balls have been fried place them into the prepared syrup. Warm the syrup for about 5 minutes over medium heat. Remove pan from heat. Add kewra or rose water if using. Allow your gulab jamuns to soak for at least 2 hours. Serve warmed or at room temperature. These can be kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to one week, allow them to come to room temperature before serving.

Helpful Hints:
Day old or stale white bread works well in this recipe too. You could probably think of this as the Indian version of "pan perdue."

Feb 27, 2016

Tips & Tools: How to Make Garlic Paste

Garlic paste is a great convenience product. Easy to store, easy to measure, disappears texturally into food, the grinding enhances garlic's flavor, and it's so much simpler than peeling and chopping cloves of garlic every time you need some in a dish. You can buy commercially prepared garlic paste at markets in South Asia, but it always tastes a bit sour and odd from the acid preservatives used.  So about once a week I make my own garlic paste. Here's my tried, tested, and true method for making garlic paste.

2 heads of garlic/lahsun
2 TBS cooking oil
1 tsp salt

Here's what to do:

1) Peel all garlic cloves removing any rotten or bruised parts also. Remove any green sprout-y bits as they will make your garlic paste taste weird.

2) Place peeled garlic cloves into a mixie, food processor, or blender with 2 TBS cooking oil and 1 tsp salt. Why does Bibi put cooking oil and salt in her garlic paste? Because the oil and salt will provide a hyperosmolar environment that will help prevent pathogens from growing and spoiling your garlic paste. The oil will also help the garlic cloves blend into a smooth paste, and unlike water will carry the flavor of the garlic and not spatter at you if placed in hot oil.

Whiz, bang, boom! The modern miracle of the mixie!
3) Grind mixture into a fine paste.

4) Transfer garlic paste to sealable airtight container. Keep in refrigerator for up to one week. Oil may separate form garlic but just stir it back in when you wish to use it.

Helpful Hints:

When using this garlic paste remember that it has salt already in it. Be sure to adjust your salt usage in a recipe accordingly.

This garlic paste can be frozen successfully also. Just place tablespoon sized scoops of the garlic paste on a cling film lined baking sheet, Place in freezer overnight. When the scoops of garlic paste are completely frozen place them in a sealable plastic bag and store them in the freezer. When you need some garlic paste just take out as many of the frozen tablespoonfuls as you need.

Feb 25, 2016

Punjabi Dhaba Style Mutton

Indian lamb goat spicy easy curry

Punjabi dhabas are small restaurants you'll see at truck stops, near gas stations, bus stops, and taxi stands across India. After the Partition many Punjabi refugees found work as truck, taxi, and bus drivers. These Punjabi run family restaurants served home style meals to the Punjabi drivers. The decor is usually quite simple and Bollywood tunes or films are often blaring on the radio or television to complete the "homely" ambiance. Dhaba restaurants are now popular with all members of the traveling public along India's burgeoning highway system, not just Punjabi drivers. This is my version of the traditional North Indian mutton curry served at India's famed Punjabi dhabas. This recipe also works well with lamb, beef, or water buffalo stew meat. 

1kg/2lbs mutton/goat, cut into 3 inch pieces, bone in preferred
2 C onions, pureed
2 tsp salt
3 TBS ghee or cooking oil
2 TBS garlic/lahsun paste
1 TBS ginger/adrak paste
2 green chilis/hari mirch, chopped coarsely
2 inch piece cassia bark/dalchini (or cinnamon stick)
2 cassia leaves/tej patta
5 cloves/laung
3 black cardamoms/kali elaichi, bruised with mortar and pestle
15 black peppercorns/kali mirch, coarsely ground
Grind until smooth puree for masala-
2 TBS cumin/jeera, ground
1 TBS coriander/dhania, ground
2 tsp Kashmiri mirch
1 tsp garam masala
1/4 tsp turmeric/haldi
2 C fresh tomatoes, chopped roughly
2 tsp salt

Here's what to do:
1) Grind onions to a smooth puree.  Set aside. 

2) Grind all ingredients listed under "masala" to a smooth paste. Set aside.

3) Heat ghee or cooking oil in a pressure cooker, heavy bottomed skillet or kadhai. Fry onion paste with 2 tsp salt until brown over medium heat. This usually takes me about 9-10 minutes.

4) Add garlic, ginger, green chilis, whole spices and cassia leaves/tej patta to fried onion paste. Fry for about 2 minutes.

5) Add mutton pieces to onion and spice mixture. Stir well and fry for 5 minutes.

6) Add ground masala mixture to mutton, onions, and spices. Stir well and bring to a simmer. If using a pressure cooker, seal and let cook for 5 to 6 whistles or until mutton is tender. If using a skillet or kadhai allow to simmer over medium heat until meat is tender adding water if necessary.

7) When the meat is tender and oil has separated from the gravy your dish is ready. Salt to taste and serve.

Helpful hints:

This recipe also works well with lamb, beef, or water buffalo stew meat. Adjust cooking times and methods accordingly.


Feb 24, 2016

Bibi's Shop-A-Palooza!

Woo Hoo!!! 
So we made our monthly trek into town to peruse all and sundry on offer at our nearest outlet of Nepal's largest supermarket chain "Bhat Bhateni"! 
What treasures did Bibi find? 

Oh my, such exotica!
Let's see here, we have Quaker rolled oats from the far away land of Leicester, some green tea from Taiwan in that rockstar green tin, a small box of high quality heavy cream from the Indian dairy firm of Amul, an elegant package of the popular Nepali cheese snack "chhurpi," and a Che Guevara mug from China.

 I'm sure you are all are familiar with heavy cream and rolled oats, but these are luxury products rarely seen in Nepal. The green tea is a really posh brand that you rarely see here also, East Asian products are always packaged so beautifully. The Che Guevara mug was hiding out guerilla style amongst some other cups emblazoned with "Starbucks," Disney characters, and other purloined American logos so I just had to have it.

I have never seen chhurpi is a fancy package like this. Usually it's just sold in a simple plastic bag. Chhurpi is a sort of dried cheese that is popular in Nepal, Sikkim, and Tibet. It is made from buttermilk that has been reduced by boiling to a paste. The boiled mass is then wrapped in a jute bag and pressed to get rid of any excess water. It is then hung up to air dry and later cut up into bite sized pieces. It ferments a bit during this process and can have a bit of a sharp tang. To enjoy chhurpi one sort of gnaws on it like a piece of betel nut. As the chhurpi sits in your mouth it softens up bit by bit and you chew it like gum. One piece of chhurpi can provide up to two hours of pure chewing satisfaction.

For those of you curious to see what the local yak and cow cheese looks like here 'tis. Being able to buy these cheeses packaged in a supermarket like this is a new thing. You used to only see the two foot across wheels of yak cheese often sitting on a table or stump at markets covered by a mesh dome to keep vermin from nibbling on it. A sales assistant would hack off any amount of cheese you wished and weigh it for purchase on a rusty balance scale. Now the government owned Dairy Development Corporation of Nepal has introduced this nifty "vacuum sealed for extra freshness" packaging. No one ever cared about how fresh yak cheese was before so I'm not sure what the point of that is. The cow's milk cheese or "kanchan" as it is known tastes like an Emmenthaler cheese, yak cheese is quite rich, a bit salty and tastes like a cross between Parmegianno-Reggiano and Gruyere. They're both quite delicious in my opinion and are definitely on par with the quality of European cheeses. Stinky cheeses are not popular with Indians. My Indian husband thinks they're both disgusting.

Calmly cooking curry,

Feb 23, 2016

Curried Peas & Mushrooms

peas mattar mushrooms curry Indian easy tomatoes veg vegetarian  vegan recipe, protein, entree

Here's an old favorite often seen on Indian restaurant menus. Tender green peas and savory succulent mushrooms are combined in a rich spicy sauce in this well known dish. We'll take a shortcut by using premade Kitchen King masala to give this vegetarian curry it's spicy punch. It's as easy to make as it is to eat! (If you don't have Kitchen King masala just look under "Helpul Hints" at the end of this recipe for a good substitute.)

3 C mushrooms, caps cut into quarters
1 C green peas/mattar fresh or frozen
3 TBS ghee or cooking oil
1 C onion, finely sliced into half moons
1 TBS garlic/lahsun past
1 TBS ginger/adrak
1&1/2 tsp cumin/jeera seeds
1/2 C water or stock/shorba
Grind to smooth paste for masala gravy:
1 C yogurt/dahi
1/2 C onion, chopped roughly
2 tomatoes, chopped roughly
2 tsp Kitchen King masala (If you don't Kitchen King masala look below under "Helpful Hints" for a good substitute)
2 tsp ground coriander/dhania seeds
1 tsp Kashmiri mirch
1/4 tsp turmeric/haldi
2 tsp salt

Here's what to do:
1) Grind all ingredients listed under masala sauce to smooth paste in mixie, food processor, or blender. Set aside.

2) In pressure cooker, heavy bottomed deep skillet, or kadhai heat oil for 5 minutes. Fry onions in heated oil until just beginning to brown. Add cumin seeds, ginger and garlic and fry for 3-4 minutes or until raw smell of garlic is gone.

3) Add ground masala paste from step 1, mushrooms, 1/2 C water or stock, and peas to fried onions and cumin seeds in pan. Stir well.

4) Seal pressure cooker and allow to steam for 3 whistles, then remove from heat. If using skillet or kadhai simmer over medium heat uncovered for 20 to 25 minutes or until mushrooms are tender and gravy is to desired consistency. Stir frequently, if mixture begins to stick or scorch before mushrooms are done add 1/2 C water, reduce heat, and continue cooking.

See how the oil has separated from the gravy? That's how you know the masala is properly cooked.  Now we just need to simmer some of the excess liquid away.
5) Open pressure cooker after it has cooled, mixture may be a bit soupy. (Mushrooms release a lot of water when cooked.) Simmer over medium heat until gravy is to desired consistency. Salt to taste and serve.

Helpful Hints:
If you don't have Kitchen King masala a good substitute is -  1/2tsp cayenne + 1/2tsp paprika + 1tsp cumin + 1tsp coriander + + 1/2 tsp fennel + 1/4tsp ground fenugreek +1/4tsp mace + 1/8tsp nutmeg 

Feb 22, 2016

Ingredients: Mango Powder, Aamchoor, Amchur

Amchur, aamchoor, or aamchur is a spice powder made from dehydrated unripe mangoes. It's tart, fruity, sweet, and honey-like flavor is used to add acidity and brightness to dishes in north Indian cuisines. You can taste amchur's tangy note gracing samosa and pakora fillings, stews, soups, fruit salads, pastries, curries, chutneys, pickles, and lentils. It is also used in marinades to tenderize meats, and poultry. 

An unripe, green mango destined to become amchur.
To make amchur, unripe mangoes are harvested, peeled, cut into thin strips and dried in the sun. This results in rather unappetizing slices of dried green mango that look like tree bark you see in the photo below.

Dried strip of green mango that will be ground to make amchur.

These unsightly dried slices of green mango are then ground into a fine pale beige powder that usually comes foil sealed in a box like this in India:

Amchur has a sour, citrusy, and slightly fruity flavor with a fragrance often described as honey-like.  In North Indian cuisines it is commonly used in curries, chutneys, dals, samosa fillings, and stir fried vegetable dishes. It is also used to tenderize chicken and mutton in marinades. Primarily it is used as a souring agent, but lends a bit of sweetness and fruit flavor along with it's acidic brightness to foods too.

Use amchur sparingly and always add it near the end of a recipe. Amchur is very potent and tart so about a 1/4 teaspoon or a pinch is all you need for most dishes. Amchur is also prone to scorching or burning so be sure to add it in towards the end of a recipe after any frying or high temperature cooking is over.

If you can't find amchur where you are, lime juice, lemon juice and tamarind are considered substitutes.

Feb 21, 2016

Tamatar Wangan (Kashmiri Tomatoes With Eggplant)

indian mughal tamatar aubergines spicy

From the vale of Kashmir comes this delectable combination of warmly spiced tomatoes and eggplant. Tamatar means tomato in Hindi and wangan means eggplant in Kashmiri.  In this dish tomatoes are slowly infused with the aromatic flavors of cardamom, cassia, cloves, cumin and a fiery burst of crimson Kashmiri chili. The eggplant is sauteed until tender yet delicately crisp. Both are combined in the final step of this dish to create a brilliant fusion of flavors and textures.

This dish is intensive to make even with the time saving advantage of the pressure cooker. I do promise you it is worth it though. The flavor of the tomato sauce is like nothing I've ever tasted before. It's a bit Middle Eastern in feel but still Indian, very different but very delicious. It's also vegan, dairy free, veg, gluten free, and ticks all the right boxes for the "clean eating" that's so fashionable these days.

7-8 long skinny eggplants/wangan, sliced into quarters with caps & stems attached
1 C cooking oil, (mustard oil if you wish to be authentic)
1 tsp salt
For tomato sauce:
1/2kg/1lb of the ripest, reddest tomatoes you can find, chopped roughly
5 cloves garlic/lahsun, peeled and chopped roughly
1 TBS onion, diced finely
2 inch piece of cassia bark/dalchini
5 cloves/laung
2 tsp cumin/jeera seeds
4 brown cardamoms/kali elaichi, bruised with mortar and pestle
5 green cardamoms/elaichi
2 tsp Kashmiri mirch (or 1 tsp paprika plus 1 tsp cayenne powder)
1/4 tsp turmeric/haldi
3 TBS mint/pudina leaves, chopped roughly (optional)
1/4 C cooking oil (mustard oil if you want to be authentic)
2 tsp salt

Here's what to do:
1) Place all ingredients listed for tomato sauce into pressure cooker. Seal pressure cooker and allow to cook for 10 minutes. 

2) While tomato sauce is cooking we'll going to shallow fry the eggplant. Heat 1 C cooking oil and 1 tsp salt in a deep heavy bottomed skillet or kadhai for 9 to 10 minutes or almost smoking. Slice eggplants lengthwise into quarters leaving the stems and caps attached.

The eggplant MUST be sliced this way or "It will not be tasty'" says my Kashmiri family. I had never seen eggplant cut this way before.

3) When oil is hot fry sliced eggplant until evenly golden brown on the outside and just tender inside. This usually takes about 2 to 3 minutes on each side of the eggplant, use tongs to grasp eggplants by the stem to flip them over. Set eggplants aside to cool.

4) Back to the tomato sauce: remove lid from pressure cooker when cooled, the mixture inside will be a bit soupy. Place pressure cooker over low heat and bring mixture to simmer. Stir mixture frequently and mash tomatoes with the back a large wooden spoon to help the tomatoes, onion, and garlic break down to a smooth paste. Allow mixture to simmer until reduced to a deep red sauce that pulls away from the sides of the pot and oil separates out.  This usually takes about 10 to 20 minutes. 

This is Bibi's big ol' hand carved Kashmiri willow wood spoon. Great for mashing tomatoes & dals while cooking. Also works a treat for disciplining smart mouthed teenagers, disobedient husbands, & troublesome in laws.

5) Salt the tomato sauce to taste and combine with fried eggplant. Stir well to combine and allow to warm through over low heat for 3 minutes. Serve with rice or pulao. Any leftover sauce can be served at room temperature as a chutney.
The oil has separated from the sauce and the tomatoes and spices are rendered to a smooth paste.

Helpful Hints:
If you wish to do this without a pressure cooker then place just the tomatoes, salt and oil in a deep, heavy bottomed skillet or kadhai. Fry tomatoes over low heat for about 10 minutes, then add garlic, spices, and onion and fry over low heat for another 10 to 15 minutes. Stir frequently and mash tomatoes with the back of a large wooden spoon. If mixture begins to scorch or stick add 1/4 C water and reduce heat. Keep frying over low heat for about another hour until oil separates out and mixture has been reduced to a deep red paste that pulls away from the pan.  Salt the tomato sauce to taste and combine with eggplants that have been sliced and fried as in steps 2 and 3, then warm dish through over low heat for 3 minutes. Your dish is ready to serve.

In Kashmiri this dish would be called "ruhwangan wangan," because "ruhwangan" means tomato in Kashmiri. That just sounded too silly so I named it "tamatar wangan."

Feb 20, 2016

Spring Sprang!

The first bloom has opened in my spring flower garden!

This is one of those new breeds of petunias that is supposed to hold it's flowers upright. It does have an upright branching pattern, I love the color, but the flower is only about an inch across. I prefer huge ruffled trumpets. Oh well. See any "anatomy" going on here Georgia O'Keefe afficionados? I see an inflamed belly button perhaps.

The marigolds never quit. They have been blooming continuously since November. I do rigorously deadhead as Penelope Hobhouse recommends. Amazing!

The nodding hibiscus overwintered well in it's protected spot by the garden wall.

Our Ms. Dawg has resumed her residence upon the patio bench. She's a stray that adopted us. We saw her at a local market covered in ticks with a gaping infected wound on her backside. We put Frontline on her & gave her a hefty dose of antibiotics thinking we'd never see her again. The next day she was at our front gate knocking to come in. She spends the monsoon on the patio and winters right outside the front gate or thereabouts.

There was a rare white tiger sighting at the taxi stand. I'm not sure who was more bashful, the tiger or it's keeper.
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