Gani-inspired vegetable curry

I had the thoroughly delightful experience of interviewing Venkappa and Ratna Gani, Austin gardeners extraordinaire, for an article in Edible Austin. At the end of the conversation, I asked Ratna if she could pass on a shred of authentic Indian cooking advice, and here’s what I got:

“Add whole mustard seeds and whole cumin seeds to hot oil. When the seeds start to pop, add onions and vegetables and sauté. Finish with curry powder, salt, lemon and tamarind, to taste.”

A perfect and complete recipe in two short sentences. The answer to  questions such as: “What vegetables?” and “How much?” is simply,  “Whatever you have.” And here’s what I had:

Cauliflower, ginger, carrots and scallions.

Mustard and cumin seeds.

Curry, black pepper, sea salt and turmeric.

The carrot tops were entirely too gorgeous to toss into the compost, so I banded them together and hung them upside down in the chicken’s yard. Chickens feasting on carrot tops is a delightful sight.

Back to peeling, chopping and cooking. I went heavy on the ginger as a stand-in for lemon and tamarind, boiled a few cups of basmati rice in the process and


  • 3 T canola oil
  • 2 t mustard seeds
  • 1 t whole cumin seeds
  • Two sizable knobs of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
  • Half head of cauliflower rough chopped
  • 4 scallions, chopped
  • 4-5 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1 -14 oz. can of garbanzo beans
  • 1 t sea salt
  • 1 t black pepper
  • 2 t curry powder
  • 1/2 t turmeric
  • A few sprigs of cilantro
  • 1 cup Basmati rice
  • 1 3/4 cups water


Boil 1 3/4 cups of water and add rice along with a touch of salt. Cover and simmer until water is absorbed–about 15 minutes.

Heat oil in a large pan or wok. Add mustard and cumin seeds to hot oil. After the mustard seeds have popped for a few minutes, add the white parts of the scallions and ginger, followed by cauliflower and carrots.

As the vegetables are cooking on a medium to high heat, gently add curry, turmeric, salt and pepper. Stir vegetables to evenly distribute the spices and continue cooking for about 5 minutes.

Drain garbanzo beans and toss into the vegetable. Cook for another 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in scallion greens.

Serve over rice and garnish with a few cilantro sprigs.

While I’m no stranger to a teaspoon of curry here and there, the game changer here is the delightful little mustard seeds. From the moment they start popping in the oil to that final journey from the fork, the little mustard seeds can add a whole new dimension to a few humble vegetables.

Pasta with Arugula and Bleu Cheese

Take two of the strongest flavors out there–the spiciest of greens, the strongest of cheeses, toss with some hot spaghetti and the world is forever rocked.

I picked up a tightly packed sack of arugula at the downtown farmers market Saturday and proceeded to rinse and dry the entire haul.

Feeling an abundance of options for this little leaf that makes everything better, I opened my daily “What to Cook” email from the New York Times and there it was: Pasta with Gorgonzola and Arugula. Perfect.

All I needed was the Gorgonzola and a quick trip to Wheatsville to pick up this missing link was a big of a disappointment. No Gorgonzola. I did some on-the-fly of Google research to see whether Bleu would do and learned what the rest of the world has probably known for a long time: Bleu cheese is an umbrella category that includes Gorgonzola, Roquefort and Stilton.*

Before the week is out, I am going to make this recipe again using Gorgonzola, but in my lack of patience yesterday, I went for the 4 oz. container of bleu crumbles, and all was well.



  • About 4 cups of chopped arugula
  • 12 oz. dried spaghetti
  • 3  T butter
  • 3 T half and half
  • 4 oz. bleu cheese
  • Black pepper


Wash and dry arugula. Chop and transfer to a platter or serving bowl.

Bring a large pot of water to boil.  Add pasta and cook to desired firmness.

Melt butter. Reduce heat to low. Add cheese and half and half.  Stir frequently until cheese is melted. Remove from heat.

Drain cooked pasta and immediately smother arugula with hot pasta to partially wilt the leaves. Top with bleu cheese sauce and toss thoroughly.

Serve immediately with cracked pepper.

*Now that I am a bleu cheese expert, I’ll share a shred of what I’ve just learned: Gorgonzola originated in Italy and is made from cow’s milk; Roquefort originated in the South of France and is made from sheep’s milk; Stilton–England, cows.

Mushroom Barley Soup

So it was a  drizzly Saturday at the Barton Creek Farmers’ Market.

Shivering on the back of a truck was a pit bull/German short-haired pointer mix who was working it as his owner made sure he stayed covered and comfy.

Farmers markets and the dogs who frequent them — a combo that I could not love more.

One booth down from this woeful fellow was an assortment of freshly picked and phenomenal mushrooms.

Seeing as it was a classic soup day, I set my sights on a vegan mushroom barley soup, selected an assortment of Baby Bellas, Shitake and Oyster mushrooms — and headed home.

After brushing and admiring these lovely gems, I got to chopping. First: lots of garlic, onions and carrots.

Next, the mushrooms and parsley.

Vegetable stock, barley, bay leaves, 45 minutes, and there you  go.

One final word on barley: not an it grain, not a recently rediscovered mainstay  of the Incas or the Egyptians, but definitely a power player. It’s hearty, high in protein and fiber, and more than holds its own compared to any grain, ancient or otherwise.


  • 1/2 cup barley
  • 1   cup water
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 carrots peeled and chopped (about 2 cups)
  • 1 cup chopped parsley
  • 12 oz. mix of fresh mushrooms (shitake, baby bella, oyster)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 6 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 t sea salt
  • 1 t pepper


Bring water to a boil and add barley. Simmer covered until liquid is nearly absorbed. Remove from heat. (Barley hogs a lot of liquid, so in order to keep soup from turning into a solid, it’s helpful to cook barley for a bit on the front end.)

Heat 1/4 cup of olive oil in a large soup pot. Combine garlic, onions and carrots. Stir frequently on medium-high heat until the onions are translucent and the carrots are soft–about 8-10 minutes.

Chop mushrooms and parsley. Add to the pot and cook uncovered for another 10 minutes, stirring frequently.

Add stock, semi-cooked barley, bay leaves, salt and pepper. Simmer on low heat for 45 minutes.

Remove bay leaved and ladle into bowls.

Serves 6.

Back to Beets

Exhibit A:

one beet inside

A softball-sized beet, purchased at H.E.B.  No idea where it was grown or how/why it’s huge.

Exhibit B:

A bunch of misshapen beets, closer in size to golf balls. Rat-tail roots and leaves still intact. Organically grown seven miles east of Austin at Johnson’s Backyard Garden.

Picked, purchased and eaten within a few days.

beets at markt cropped

The choice is between more bang for the buck or simply better in every other way.

As a later-in-life convert to beets,  I’ve posted often about the many ways to enjoy this multi-dimensional superfood. My current favorite: cold, or warm on a salad.

The combination of roasted beets, pecans and goat cheese on a bed of field greens with a basic balsamic vinaigrette is about as good as it gets.

And since beets always seem to take too long to cook, I’m now roasting lots of beets at once refrigerating the rest to be tossed onto salads throughout the week.

Roasted Beet, Pecan and Goat Cheese Salad

  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1 medium or a few small beets
  • 4 oz. goat cheese
  • 1/3 cup pecan halves
  • 6 oz. field greens


  • 2 T olive oil
  • 2 T balsamic vinegar
  • sea salt
  • black pepper

Preheat oven to 375.

Peel and dice beets. Toss with olive oil and roast for 30 minutes or until tender.

Add pecan halves to a dry skillet. Cook for 5-7 minutes at medium heat tossing/stirring frequently

Combine olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and black pepper in a covered jar. Shake.

Divide greens among four salad plates or in a large salad bowl.  Top with cooked beets, pecans and crumbled goat cheese. Toss with vinaigrette. Feast your eyes on a beautiful salad and enjoy.

beet pecan goat salad



Chai-Spiced Sweet Potato Cookies

sweet potato cookies 2Sweet potatoes are guaranteed to show up in a CSA farm basket this time of year. Superfood or not, enthusiasm for this mighty root can start to wane as the weekly stash of spuds starts to back up. Continue reading Chai-Spiced Sweet Potato Cookies

Seasonal. Local. Surprising