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.
From pancakes to muffins, smoothies to salads — steamed roasted and raw — beets and beet greens been the subject of lots of posts this year. I didn’t start 2013 with the intention exploring this deeply pigmented root from every possible angle. In fact, on a few occasions, I made a small determination to rein in my new-found fervor, and then I’d end up asking myself, “why stop now.”
The bottom line, I’ve barely just begun. Next on the docket: beet chips, assorted borscht recipes, pickled beets, and a beet cake. In the meantime, here’s a brief recap of the fun that we’ve had with beets for the first 8 months of 2013.
Quinoa has been the go-to grain around here for most of the year. Faster and fluffier than rice, a complete protein — and then there’s the whole Inca connection. Back in the day, when in doubt, I’d steam some rice, saute an onion along with any vegetables that were on hand, add a little salt, pepper and cumin, and call it dinner.
Last night, I switched it up a bit, with quinoa and then raised the superfood bar with a few cups of chopped arugula and spinach. We had it as a main course and everyone was happy. This dish could also stand in as a side dish, or served cold as a salad.
1 cup of quinoa
1 1/2 cups water
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 red or yellow pepper, chopped
1 cup black beans rinsed
1 tsp. cumin
salt and pepper
2 cups tightly packed spinach and arugula, or other greens
Rinse quinoa and add to 1 1/2 cups of water in a medium saucepan. Cover, bring to a boil, and simmer until water is absorbed. About 15 minutes.
Saute onions and pepper in olive oil for 3-4 minutes. Add rinsed black beans and cumin.
Rough chop greens and add to the saute pan along with cooked quinoa. Salt and pepper to taste.
When quinoa is cooked, add to the saute pan. Serve warm as a main course or side dish, or chilled as a salad.
I’ve been on a minor mission this year to use quinoa whenever possible. Quinoa is the current “it” grain, and that’s for some very good reasons. What’s not to love about an ancient, gluten-free, nutrient-dense, protein-packed powerhouse, cultivated by the Incas more than 5,000 years ago?
Quinoa Anything can be a vegetarian main course, and it can almost always be switched out for cous cous or rice. I say almost, because a few months ago, I went a little haywire and decided to try quinoa pudding — instead of rice pudding. Bad idea. It tasted like freshly mowed grass. Lesson learned: stick to savory quinoa dishes.
As far as Quinoa Tabbouleh: Perfect
1 cup quinoa, rinsed
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 cloves minced garlic
1/3 cup olive oil
1 large cucumber chopped well
2 cups of cherry or grape tomatoes halved
1 cup parsley chopped very fine
1/4 cup chopped green onions
1/4 cup chopped, fresh basil*
*Classic tabbouleh calls for mint, which is not on my 100 Ingredient List — and I like it better with fresh basil.
Rinse quinoa and add to a saucepan with 1 1/2 cups of water and 1/2 tsp. salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat for 10 minutes until water is absorbed. Fluff with a fork.
In a small bowl, whisk together minced garlic, lemon juice and olive oil. Set aside
Chop cucumber, tomatoes, parsley, green onions and basil.
In a large bowl, combine cooked quinoa with chopped vegetables and herbs. Add dressing and stir gently. Season with salt and pepper.
Broccoli Pancakes with Pesto. Seriously, these were delicious. One of my favorite blogs, Beyond the Peel, came out with a recipe for 3 Ingredient Savory Pancakes, and I had to try them immediately, largely out of disbelief that
2 cups chopped broccoli,
4 eggs and
2 Tbsp. of ground flax
zapped together in a food processor could turn into a game-changing pancake batter. They cooked up in a skillet with a little oil, just like a regular pancake.
Topped with warm pesto, we had the pleasure during dinner of experiencing something truly new under the sun. Gluten free to boot. Great for dinner, I can’t wait to serve these for a brunch and convert a whole new crew of doubters to the concept of a broccoli pancake.
It’s fairly recently that I’ve started pushing the envelope of pesto possibilities, stirring in a tablespoon of pesto here, spreading it liberally there, and discovering more and more reasons to love pesto.
Pesto is simply amazing. Packed with more flavor per square centimeter than any other item on the savory shelf, it also serves as a vehicle for some of the finest superfoods out there — garlic, olive oil, fresh herbs, walnuts, lemon juice. One could almost make an argument for popping a pesto capsule on days when it did not make it onto the plate.
What we’re talking about here are dishes that incorporate pesto — not recipes for pesto. But first, a few words on pesto itself. Earlier this year, I experimented with a Basil Arugula Parsley Pesto, which became my standby. Recently, I took a crack at a Basil Almond Pesto, and even though I’m thinking that might be my new go-to, I’ll never tire of new pesto possibilities. My only rule when making pesto: make a lot. A refrigerator that’s stocked with this wildly versatile standby tends to spark the creative juices.
Here are some more of the ways that pesto has managed to spice up our lives lately.
I bought a few ears at the Farmer’s Market. Shucked them. Immersed them in boiling water for a few minutes and was about to bring them to the table with a stick of butter and a shaker of salt — like I’ve done since I was 10 years old — and I stopped myself in my tracks thinking, “I wonder what a little pesto would be like instead.” There are those who would advocate mixing half butter and half pesto, and that’s one way to go. We went for straight pesto and loved it.
Pesto Pilaf. A side dish doesn’t get much easier (or better) than this: One cup of brown rice, 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer until the water is fully absorbed. Stir in 2 Tbsp. of pesto. Top with toasted, sliced almonds. Perfect.
Cheese and Pesto Sandwich. A cheese sandwich began as a very blah lunch-on-the run until I eyed some pesto in the fridge, spread some pesto on a slice of whole wheat bread, and added a slice of cheddar along with a few arugula leaves. The transformation to an entirely new sandwich stratosphere was immediate.
The next day, Sarah took the same concept and grilled it. Even better.
Pesto/Lemon Dressing. Equal parts pesto and fresh squeezed lemon juice. That’s all it takes to unseat the standard Dijon vinaigrette.
Pesto Frittata.Fun with frittatas — brunch, lunch or dinner — is a big theme around our kitchen these days. A recent addition of a tablespoon of pesto into five beaten eggs, took a potato, onion and tomato frittata up several notches.
Pesto Omlette. And next we have the obvious extension of the pesto frittata. Two large eggs, a tablespoon of pesto spread in the center, and about a half tablespoon on top.
Baked Salmon with Pesto. Once again, pesto comes to the rescue. 30 seconds is all it takes to transform a plain plank of salmon into a perfectly moist and flavor-packed filet. Spread about 2 Tbsp. of pesto across the skinless side of a 1 to 1 1/2 pound salmon filet. Wrap in foil and bake in a preheated 450 degree oven for 20 minutes.
Pesto Salmon Cakes. I’m a big proponent of always having a can of wild-caught sockeye salmon on the shelf (as well as a container of pesto in the fridge), because it means that Pesto Salmon Cakes will always be an option. One 14 1/2 oz. can of red salmon, 3 Tbsp. of pesto, 2 eggs and 2 slices of whole wheat bread ground into crumbs, and that’s it.
Pesto Croutons. Bill could not be a bigger fan of homemade croutons and pesto couldn’t be a more perfect crouton mix. Combine 2 cups of cut up cubes of bread with 3 tablespoons of pesto mixed in with additional olive oil to ensure that the pesto spreads evenly. Toss gently until all of the bread cubes are coated and toast in a preheated 400 degree oven for 20 minute. Toss again after about 10 minutes and monitor closely to ensure croutons don’t burn.
Pesto Pasta. Serving as the poster child of this blog’s Auto Pilot page, pasta with pesto is where my love of pesto began — and the point from which is did not stray for many years.
Broccoli Pesto. And for a variation on the basic pasta with pesto, steam broccoli for a good seven minutes and mash it with a fork along with a few tablespoons of pesto. Mix with hot pasta and top with parmesan.