One of my earliest introductions to Indian cuisine was mattar paneer. The essential components are lightly pan-fried cubes of luscious paneer cheese and plump green peas gently simmered in a elegantly spiced tomato-based gravy. The spicing, consistency of the sauce, and texture of the paneer vary greatly however, depending on the cook running the kitchen — obviously this can be a source of considerable culinary inspiration if you judge by the popularity of this classic dish that originates from Northern India and now a mainstay on menus all across the globe.
This version has a thicker sauce than an ordinary mattar paneer, flavored with a generous amount of fenugreek or methi leaves. This is my second mattar paneer flavored with these uniquely bitter but tangy leaves. They're easily available at any Indian and most Asian grocers, but you can substitute spinach if needed with an added pinch of fenugreek powder or seeds.
The challenge for September was to come up with a soup or salad suitable for Vegans. We had a short, but sweet selection of entries this month. Congratulations to Helen of Fuss Free Flavors who served up a stylish Tenderstem and Semi-Confit Tomato Salad. This elegant side would grace any autumn dinner plate.
Jacqueline will be hosting the October edition of No Croutons Required. The theme this month is vegetarian sandwiches; certainly sandwiches are a lovely accompaniment to soups and salads.
Food is a central feature of pretty much any holiday gathering that I can think of, and this is especially true of winter celebrations. Not only do we need to eat, but we like to eat, and us cooks tend to get more creative and ambitious with our culinary offerings on special occasions.
Unfortunately, vegans, vegetarians and carnivores alike are all too familiar with the frustrations of holiday gatherings precisely because of the central role food plays at such times. Winter holiday gatherings and meals are traditionally dominated by meat, poultry and fish, and thus our more carnivorous family and friends serve up meals without a knowledge of what makes for balanced, filling and delicious vegan and vegetarian fare, apprehensive because they want us to enjoy the culinary aspect of the festive occasion as much as they do. Similarly, even experienced vegan and vegetarian cooks preparing the bulk of the holiday spread hope they can provide enough dishes to satisfy the appetite and stimulate the palates of all their diners, especially if neither meat nor seafood is served.
You can imagine my delight then when I was contacted by Zel Allen who offered me a complimentary copy of her new book, Vegan for the Holidays: Celebration Feasts for Thanksgiving through New Year's Day. I've been a vegetarian for over 20 years and have learned to adapt and often make much of the food for family dinners enjoyed by carnivores as much as by the vegetarians present. But you never can have enough recipe ideas, and the unique charm of this book is that it is specifically designed for special occasions with recipes free of all animal products.
This time a couple of plantains made it into the basket for the first time. Large and thick-skinned banana cultivars, the starchiness, lower sugar content and more neutral flavor of green unripe plantains makes them a staple cooking vegetable in much of the world, as opposed to the soft and sweet bananas we usually eat here in North America.
But my plantains were ripe, which means that much of their starch content had been converted to sugar … still less sweet and milder than a banana, they're still not very appealing to eat on their own. But frying slices of ripe plantain in hot oil is a popular treat in central America, which is what I did. As the slices turn a rich reddish-brown, the sugar caramelizes and the firm flesh inside the sweet crunchy exterior softens into a mellow, slightly banana-y and melt-in-your-mouth creamy filling. They're beautiful to look at, and astonishingly tasty without being too sweet. Dressed with a simple coconut milk and peanut butter sauce, these sweet fried plantains are a lovely, quick and easy treat.
Select ripe plantains for this snack — green plantains will taste bland and feel starchy in the mouth. You can tell when plantains are ripe when they are yellow with dark splotches and yield to the touch.
|Sweet Fried Plantains and Coconut-Peanut Butter Sauce|
|Recipe by Lisa Turner|
Cuisine: Central American
Published on September 25, 2012
Soft melt-in-your-mouth fried plantain slices with a sweet crunchy exterior, served with a simple coconut milk and peanut butter sauce
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Other quick and easy fruit treats you may enjoy:
Apricot Rum Fritters
Cream Cheese and Caramel Strawberry Dip
Red Fruit Salad
On the top of the reading stack: paperwork
Audio Accompaniment: Lustmord - Place Where The Black Stars Hang
My hope of an extremely hot summer morphing into a pleasant warm and sunny fall certainly hasn't come about, and that has me dashing round the kitchen to generate some heat. As nothing can quite match the soothing feeling of mouthfuls of steaming hot soup gradually warming your body from head to toe, the thought of a bowl with some extra spicy flair combined with the comforting goodness of autumn vegetables soon became a reality.
Only recently have I realized the endless possibilities of cooking with eggplant. I have only cooked with it on a few occasions until recently, but now it's often on my grocery list as I explore this underrated and sadly neglected vegetable. Many people in my circle of acquaintances think that eggplant is flavorless, bland and soggy, yet so many of the recipe books I own contain numerous recipes for eggplant and the local market always has a good supply on hand all year round. I guess that eggplant is not as unpopular as I originally thought.
It all depends on how you prepare this vegetable, though technically it is a fruit. True, it doesn't really have much flavor, but from a culinary point of view it is a rather ideal vegetable to cook with because it absorbs seasonings and flavors well. Eggplant doesn't keep for long, so it is best to purchase it a day or so before using it. Lightly salting the eggplant and letting it sit for an hour or so before patting the slices dry helps get rid of some of the moisture and bitterness. If you are adding it to soups or stews, add near the end of the cooking time. You don't need to peel the eggplant because the skin is edible, but most cooks do unless they want to bake it whole in the oven, or stuffed. In either case, the skin will not likely be consumed.
Bake it, steam it, fry it, roast or broil it, and you will come up with various serving ideas. Eggplant is commonly included in stews, soups and casseroles, curries, salads, sandwiches and pasta dishes among other favorites appearing on the dinner table. Often overlooked is that eggplant really does shine on its own as the center piece of a tapas platter or as a standalone appetizer to stimulate the palate before the main course. To illustrate this claim, I came up with these little eggplant bites. I defy eggplant skeptics to stop at only one.
The quinoa here is mixed with a rather unconventional pesto as part of the topping, but I found it worked perfectly, adding an extra layer of flavor to the tapas.
Our first entry this month is from Janet of the Taste Space with a moist and creamy Chickpea and Tofu Tahini Scramble Salad. This dressed up tofu scramble has an intriguing blend of flavors and textures. Browned crumbled tofu, plump chickpeas and sweet cherry tomatoes are gently sautéed in a sauce consisting of tahini, homemade hummus, tamari and lemon juice and served on a bed of fresh spinach. This dressed up beauty will be on my menu quite soon. (Toronto, Ontario, Canada)
My contribution to the vegan menu selection is this elegant Thai Mushroom Soup with Coconut. Mixed earthy dried and fresh mushrooms are simmered in a broth of shallots, fresh galangal, lemongrass, coconut milk, homemade green curry paste, tamari and a wee bit of sweetener. Subtle coconut milk tempers the rather bold and layered complexity of the seasonings, and the fresh lemon juice completes the dish with a vibrant flourish. (London, Ontario, Canada)
Rita of Rita Cooks Italian serves up FAGIOLINI CON SUGO DI POMODORO FRESCO (runner beans in fresh tomato and garlic sauce). I rather like the Italian name of this simple and graceful dish. This was Rita's solution to an abundance of runner beans. The delicately cooked beans are dressed up in an elegant tomato sauce seasoned with fresh garlic, fresh basil and chives. The liberal use of olive oil in the sauce certainly contributes some depth to this delightful side. (London, England, UK)
Johanna of Green Gourmet Giraffe welcomes spring with a Kale Potato and Quinoa Stew. Johanna originally set out to make a soup with fresh garden kale, but instead it evolved into a thicker pot full of nourishing vegetables. Onions, carrots, parsnip, cabbage and celery are lightly stir fried and then simmered in a homemade freezer scraps stock, along with potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomato paste, garlic, smoked paprika, quinoa, kale and cooked black beans and borlotti beans. The homemade vegan Parmesan that tops each serving adds a "salty and sharp cheesiness" to the stew. Pure comfort food that will warm and nourish on a cold chilly day. (Melbourne, Australia)
My dear friend Jackie and co-host of this monthly event shares one of her favorites that no doubt will become a favorite of mine too. My jaw dropped when I set my eyes upon this stunning Herbful Pasta Salad with Mushrooms. How distinguished is this light and zesty salad with chestnut mushrooms sauteed in olive oil and garlic, combined with Dishi Volanti pasta, and dressed with a mixture of fresh basil and dill, lemon juice, garlic, olive oil and balsamic vinegar? The gourmet quality of this dish proves that gourmet does not necessarily mean complicated. (Scotland, UK)
Our final submission this month is from Helen of Fuss Free Flavours. This Tenderstem and Semi-Confit Tomato Salad might be fuss free, but it certainly will appeal to even the fussiest of eaters. Lightly cooked tenderstem broccoli comes together with rich tasting semi-confit tomatoes infused with fresh herbs and olive oil and served over some fresh spinach leaves, drizzled with some olive oil and fresh lemon juice for a fresh burst of flavor, and finally topped with dry toasted sesame seeds and chili flakes to add a crunchy texture and subtle touch of heat to the dish. (London, England, UK)
Jacqueline will be hosting the October edition of No Croutons Required. Check back at the beginning of the month for the theme.
One of my specialties and favorite creations to pull from a steaming hot oven are surely quick breads such as biscuits, scones, muffins and loaves. The aroma tantalizes the senses and stimulates the appetite. I always find the transition from summer to fall rather difficult to adapt to and turning on the oven warms the toes. The only drawback is having the patience to enjoy one until it is cool enough to eat. Generally speaking, I prefer savory to sweet. I am also a spice fanatic so it seemed natural for me to come up with a spicy savory biscuit, or scone if you prefer.
I'm wild about mushrooms of any variety, dried or fresh, and they appear on my dinner table at least once a week in some form or other. I adore them so much that I often chop up more than I need for my dish because I can't help myself from nibbling on them during meal prep. The meaty texture of mushrooms provide endless opportunities for cooks. They shine on their own pan fried with spices and seasonings, and are a central part of many soups and stews, salads, tapas, egg dishes, pasta and pizza, sauces and countless other dishes that grace our dining table.
The same principles that apply to making your own spice blends at home similarly apply to homemade pastes, chutneys and sauces. Jarred and/or canned varieties available at your local market lack the freshness and flare that you can easily achieve by making your own staples at home. Certainly another advantage is you have total control over the quantity and quality of the ingredients used. The process is easier than you might initially think — especially if your kitchen is stocked with a spice grinder or food processor — and if stored in tightly sealed jars, spice blends will stay fresh for months on end, while most pastes, chutneys and sauces will keep well in the fridge for a few weeks or longer.
As I am exploring Thai cooking in more depth lately, it seems essential that I have some fresh curry pastes on hand as they are an essential addition to so many Thai dishes. Many of the commercial ready-made Thai curry pastes that you find on grocery store shelves contain fish sauce making them unsuitable for vegetarians and vegans, so there is an extra incentive to make your own. In addition to Thai green curry paste, this red curry paste is now a frequent occupant on the second floor of my fridge. Used sparingly, your soups, sauces and curries will benefit from the lingering sensation of hot chilies, fresh galangal or ginger, and lemongrass. Those with passionate palates may exercise less restraint for a more febrile experience.
As a diner I love the creamy and toothsome texture of risottos. And as a cook, I love the limitless creativity that can be applied to the making of them. A risotto is essentially a blank canvas on which to paint your favorite flavors, Italian-themed or otherwise, making this a great vehicle for fusion-style cooking — there are even dessert risottos out there.
I've had some wonderful successes with risottos before, but this is my first Indian-style version.
I used some of the classic tastes of Indian cooking in this risotto, cooking the rice in a hot tamarind vegetable stock and seasoning it with a favorite combination of spices and fried seeds, including the use of nigella and fennel seeds to give the risotto a lovely onion-and-anise perfume. A quarter part of channa dal or split yellow peas lends an earthiness that balances the various heat and fragrance of the seeds and spices as well as the sweetness of the rice, and makes this risotto essentially an unconventional kind of "khichri" or kitcheree — the traditional Indian rice and dal one-pot comfort food.
The dal or split peas also provide a protein component to the dish, making this risotto kitchari an attractive option for a complete light and simple dinner if served with a side salad or vegetables. It's also a vegan-friendly meal if you use oil instead of ghee to fry the spices.
Nigella seeds, also known as kalonji or black onion seeds, are easily found in any Indian grocer, as are channa dal, tamarind paste or dried tamarind pulp.
|Spicy Tamarind and Channa Risotto Kitcheree|
|Recipe by Lisa Turner|
Published on September 13, 2012
Indian-style risotto rice cooked in a hot tamarind vegetable stock and seasoned with spices and fried seeds
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Other risotto or rice dishes you may enjoy:
Simple Chana Dal, Dill and Tomato Khichri
Pilau Rice with Nuts and Seeds
Spicy Azuki Bean Risotto
On the top of the reading stack: The Meat Lover's Meatless Cookbook: Vegetarian Recipes Carnivores Will Devour by Kim O'Donnel
Audio Accompaniment: Off The Sky - Nonlinear Surface Tensions / Mileece's Reduction (Studies Of Lifeform In Transit)
If Snazzy Gourmet were a local store I'm sure it would be on my list of rounds often. It would be quite the sight to see shelves and shelves stocked with their selection of almost 500 natural and organic foods — olive oils, vinegars, pastas, sauces, soups, grains, spices and seasonings, jams, snacks, and all kinds of other products. Like the name implies, all their items are top-quality gourmet products from high-end food companies, and usually with a pretty snazzy design too. Unable to browse the aisles filled with glamourous bottles, jars and packages of goodness, I miss out on that sensuous experience cooks always enjoy when physically surrounded by objects of culinary inspiration, but it's an online store and all of those tempting foods are just a click away.
The complimentary samples I received were a package of Gluten Free Santa Fe Pilaf, a jar of Urban Accents Mesa Rosa Chipotle - Southwestern Smoky Blend and a bottle of B.R Cohn Organic California Extra Virgin Olive Oil. I was quite satisfied with all three of the products and incorporated each one into the dish that I created.
The Santa Fe Pilaf is a mixture of seasoned quinoa, millet, black beans and dehydrated vegetables. I always cook with dried legumes and I was pleasantly surprised how delicious the pilaf mixture that included the dehydrated ingredients turned out. The seasoning was well-balanced and in 25 minutes you have a balanced pot of protein and starches.
The Mesa Rosa Chipotle Southwestern Smoky blend was particularly appealing to my spicy palate. I used it even before incorporating it into my dish. It adds a nice spicy kick to sauces, marinades, salad dressings, eggs, soups and any other types of foods or dishes that benefit from the unique smoky kick of chipotle.
The B.R Cohn olive oil has a light refreshing flavour that makes it especially suited for salads, vegetables, dips and sauces or even as a dipping oil for your favorite crusty breads.
Now for my recipe where I really got a chance to evaluate the goods. As you can imagine, the selection of products that I used for my dish are perfectly suited to Mexican cuisine though all three products could be used to inspire a multitude of culinary creations.
|Chipotle Black Bean, Millet and Quinoa Burritos|
|Recipe by Lisa Turner|
Published on September 11, 2012
Spicy and filling burritos stuffed with a seasoned black bean, quinoa and millet pilaf and covered with a chipotle sour cream sauce
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Chipotle sour cream sauce:
Notes: The measures presented here are approximate and easily adjusted to suit your preferences and serving needs. You can halve the recipe for a more manageable portion or double it if you are serving a crowd. Tone down the heat or turn it up a notch or two. Include other ingredients in your wraps, such as fresh lettuce, corn, cucumber or whatever else strikes your fancy. The dried chipotle peppers, dried mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes may be considered optional.
Warm the tortillas before filling if desired. And finally, a word of caution: be VERY careful with dried chipotle peppers if you are using them. They are HOT, so you want to be sparing with them, especially when you are including other spices, as I did for this recipe.
GIVEAWAY: And now a treat for my readers. Snazzy gourmet is willing to send all three of the products I used in my dish to a random winner. All you need to do is leave a comment on this post, perhaps with a suggestion of what you might make with some or all of the products I received. If you enjoy my blog, please do visit and like my facebook page. Please note the contest is only open to residents of the US and Canada. If you do not have a blog, please leave your email address along with your comment so I can contact you should you be the lucky winner. The contest will run until September 30th and I will choose a random winner the day after the contest ends.
UPDATE: Congratulations to Val of More than Burnt Toast. She is the lucky random winner of the draw!
I received complimentary samples from Snazzy Gourmet for review. The opinions and recipe published here are my own.
This recipe has been sitting in my draft folder for a year since the last time blue grapes were in season here. By the time I finally got around to typing up the recipe and inserting my photos their glory had passed. Now, though, it is the time of year again when those those of us going into the fall harvest season in Ontario and the northeastern United States are able to pick and buy baskets of these wonderfully sweet and tangy little beauties. If you enjoy Concord grapes, you are going to love these deep blue "Coronation" grapes. Perfect for snacking on, they're also ideal for baking with because they are seedless.
Complicated dishes can grace any table, but such elegant and simple yet flavorful dal dishes such as this urad dal dish with spices are a perfect solution when you are pressed for time but want to make sure your family is well-nourished. Pleasing to the eye and palate, serve with a rice dish or Indian flatbread and any vegetable side dish for a complete meal.
This recipe uses split urad dal without skins. These versatile mild flavored beans, when cooked in curries absorb the flavors of the spices and vegetables. They should be rinsed well and are often fried without soaking or cooking beforehand in combination with aromatic seeds and spices for tempering vegetable curries. The possibilities are as endless as the imagination of the cook.
This is my contribution to Black and White Wednesday, week #49. This popular weekly culinary photo event was started by Susan of The Well Seasoned Cook and is still going strong. As Susan pointed out when she announced the event, black and white photos simply do not get enough respect. Well, when you see the array of creative photographs presented each week, you will see that while color photos are stunning and usually favored, especially when it comes to culinary imagery, monochromatic images can be just as sensual, striking and artistic, if not more so, depending on the photographer behind the lens. As Susan notes, "Black and white can dramatically impact your images and train your eye to view highlights, shadows, and midtones in a whole new light.."
Trips to the local market in August are an adventure for the senses! Tables, bins and baskets filled with an abundance of fresh new local vegetables and fruits offer arrays of vivid colors and pleasing shapes for the eyes, ripe scents for the nose, and textures and weights for the sense of touch. Of course, all these are an invitation to the cook to bring the vibrant flavors of fresh local produce to the mouth!
The dilemma I face at the market in the summer is hardly one of scarcity but of over-abundance. There is so much to choose from that I can't bring some of everything home (at least not all at once), so these trips are really as much an exercise in delayed gratification as in anticipation. But one thing I can hardly ever resist is the local peaches and cream corn — sweet, fragrant and colorful, it's an exceptional eating corn and a simple but delicious treat just on its own with only a little butter and salt.
Like all exceptional foods, local sweet corn is best paired with only a handful of other simple but elegant flavors. This time I prepared a simple risotto simmered in a stock made from the cobs of the corn, with the fresh and lightly cooked kernels mixed in at the end along with some fresh tomato and basil from my garden and some good quality Parmesan cheese. A few jalapeños from the garden added a nice little kick.
This warm creamy risotto has a wonderful aroma and lovely contrasts in color and texture — just like a trip to the market, it's an irresistible invitation to please the mouth. A perfect summer risotto!
For the past few years I have cultivated vegetables and herbs in my backyard. This year, with careful attention to watering because we have had a dry summer here in Ontario, I ended up with a treasure trove of fresh produce.
Fresh herbs are preferable in most dishes, and it is such a pleasure to go out a few steps and pick just what you need instead of buying a huge bunch of herbs from the market, most of which you know will likely go to waste. Why is it often so difficult to find portions that are manageable? I detest wasting food. Really, for most dishes do we really require a bushel of dill, cilantro or parsley? As it doesn't keep for all that long in the fridge, into the bin it sadly goes sometimes. I really don't have the space to dry it out, nor do I have room to grow herbs indoors during the winter as my houseplants have taken over the place, and I live with a cat besides.
Another pleasure is an abundance of fresh hot peppers. Spicy foods are so often on the menu in my home, and chilies are a must. The ones from the garden are so fresh, juicy and superior in flavor, and I don't have to go hunting around for the varieties that pack just the right amount of heat or drive to the nearest Indian market to get those cute little green chilies.
Eat Your Books has indexed recipes from over 3,000 cookbooks and the archives of over 800 of the most popular food magazines, and by creating your own bookshelf from these titles you can search online through every recipe you own by ingredient, ethnicity or type of dish, and come up with a list of ideas so that you know right where to go. It's invaluable to me, and frequently reminds me of books I'd never even think to look at when browsing the old-fashioned way — I only wish it could help me with the hundreds of newspaper clippings and photocopied recipes I have scattered in far too many folders and binders! There's no such thing as too many cookbooks, but if you have a lot I hope that you'll check Eat Your Books out.