Archive | November, 2010

Deena’s Stuffed Okra

27 Nov

As a child I used to diligently peel back the layers in quarter-sections lengthways, and then nibble at them one by one. Only then, with a scoop of chapatti, would I eat the stuffing of that individual okra, with a warm, smug glow of self satisfaction. And then repeat the process. My tailored technique did slow down mealtimes, but personally I think my parents were just pleased that I was eating something green: and that okra too! We didn’t know many other kids who would eat them, at least not as happily as I did. In fact I remember one of my cousin’s being close to tears when encouraged to be sensible and eat their portion….”Deena does?” This made me feel like a very sophisticated little kid – did I have good taste or was it just that I was more willing to try? I revelled in my mother’s cheerful flaunting of this fact to my aunts as well as her friends. “She eats okra you know! In fact it’s one of her favourite meals and she even eats an extra chappati when we have this particular curry”. Parents! Kids! In fact, I think stuffed okra was indeed one of my favourite curries. Sometimes I would just roll it whole in the middle of a chapatti and then have a mighty mouthful. They’re quite a fun vegetable to eat you know. Why is this exquisite curry not served in restaurants?
 
It was, and still is, especially important to me that they sit in a mild, but pretty garlicky curry base. Not watery, but thick and happy. A luscious coating shall we say. Enough to add a tang of tomato, but I don’t want them drenched; no that would be awful. And I certainly can’t have them sticky-that’s neglectfully tragic. Simmer gently on a light flame, don’t rush.

I adore the way they are stacked in the Indian grocers, mounds and mounds of ladies fingers. I’ve always found that name so off-putting. Long green bullets being bent and scraped by scanning, analytical grocery shoppers. I’m always amused by the conversations around okra stands…people run their fingers like pensive ploughs over and through them, tutting and clicking their tongues; a distinct sign that they are unimpressed. Not woody, not browned. Green and slender, that’s how they should be…that’s what they’re discussing, scattered amongst talk of daughter-in-laws and mother-in-laws.
 
I’ve experienced okra diversely, cooked in soups, Gujarati yogurt soups (kadhi), African stews, American-style breaded and fried, stir fried with sugar and then there’s the shredded and fried variety as found in Mumbai. I’ve tasted them in a ratatouille and also stir fried in soy sauce and chili. Nevertheless, one of the okra recipes that sits closest to my heart is this one.
 
Although the traditional recipe calls for the stuffing being bound with oil, I simply can’t bring myself to do it. My father and I have regular enthused discussions about this. He buys into the idea and will go along with it, but pushes my version of this stuffing, which is slightly stickier, in my direction… “You do it”. So here is how I do it;

Stuffed Okra Curry by Deena Kakaya

Ingredients

250g of okra
6 tbsp of gram flour
2 tbsp of corriander powder and 1 tsp of cumin powder
salt to taste
3 tsp of lemon juice
1/2 tsp turmeric
2 tbsp of vegetable oil
2tbsp of water for the stuffing and 1/2 cup hot water for the curry base.
Chili powder to taste, I use about 2 tsp
1/2 can of plum peeled tomatoes
1-2 chilies
2-3 cloves of garlic finely chopped
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
 
Method
 
1. Wash the okra and dry them individually with kitchen paper and then leave the to stand and dry completely.  This will help to avoid that gunky texture.
2. Toast the gram flour gently for about 1-2 minutes, but dont let the gram flour burn
3. Combine the gram flour, cumin powder, corriander powder, salt and turmeric and mix thoroughly
4. Add the oil, lemon juice and water to the spices mix and form a dough.
5. When the okra are dry, create a slit vertically from top to tail in the centre of the okra but avoid touching the bottom and top tips. 
6. Stuff them each generously and close them firmly.
7. In a deep set pan, heat a splash of oil and add the mustard seeds and allow them to pop.  Stir in the chopped garlic and chili and saute until golden, before mixing in the tomato and salt. Bring this to a simmer and then place the okra in gently.
8. Coat the okra with the mixture gently and simmer on a low flame for about 5 minutes before adding 1/2 cup of hot water.  Bring to a simmer again and cook on a medium flame until the okra are soft enough to pierce all the way through.  This should take about 15 minutes.
 
I suggest devouring these okra with lots of natural yogurt of raitha and hot buttery chappati’s or naan bread. 

Deena’s Vegetable Dumplings Stewed in a Yogurt Soup/Curry (Kadhi)

16 Nov

I am, like many of you, really into comfort food in this season. I like being comfortable, comforted and ‘nice’.  I console and pamper myself from the elements of this season with long swaying sweaters, ear-soothing hats and blanket trousers – and oh, most definitely the secret snug of tights – and lots of them.  I nestle myself in front of the open hearth of our home, lulled to sleep by the glowing of coal and watching the mesmerising crackles and pops, which snap my attention back to the rice crispies adverts from years gone by but then I’m caught craving chocolate coated cornflakes. And then my mind wanders to open city streets and the smell of roasting chestnuts, despite never enjoying the taste as a child. I think it was just the idea of a sweet nut. Toes playing with fluffy layers of rug, elbow nestled in cushion and nose under the blanket that now inhabits the sofa. Even I get a wee bit lazier in the winter, but I can’t apologise for that? Where there is a (albeit lazy) will, there is a recipe from me!
 
You may find yourself trying to make the weekly shop last longer-particularly those of us that can’t forget being snowed in earlier this year! You may find that when the evenings are darker and colder you just can’t bear to creep out from the wallowing warmth of indoors, for extra food supplies. You may find that you always have leftovers of the big squash, cabbages, potatoes and onions because you just don’t get through it all.  Hopefully it’s not because you’ve been ordering too many take-a ways!
 
My recipe for Indian vegetable dumplings stewed in a gently spiced and thickened yogurt soup/curry (kadhi) hits all the magic comfort buttons, uses up leftovers and also it tastes flippin’ fantastic.  It’s a simple, humble recipe. No coulis. No jus. No precision, or layering to perfect angles on plates. It just is, in all its tastiness, a hearty and delicious meal in one bowl of sunny yellows and oranges.  As this recipe simmers away in the kitchen, you will find that the homely and calm aromas are capturing.

I grew up with variations of this recipe; it looks a little like vegetable sausages stewed in a sunny curry. Some people cook them with more flour than vegetables, for a firmer bite. I like mine soft and sweetened from root vegetables.  Some people use millet flour to help bind the dough, but I find that a little bitter.  Traditionally, I think people bind the dough with oil, but I really can’t bring myself to do that.  Some people use less gravy; I like a good slathering of ginger-spiked soupiness. Some people use very traditional vegetables like bottled gourd (tastes like courgette).  I like to use gourd sometimes, especially as it is so easily available in supermarkets, but more often I will use any of my root vegetable leftovers. If you are using leftovers, this recipe will taste like taste like you’ve gone to a lot of effort!

Deena’s Vegetable Dumplings Stewed in a Yogurt Soup/Curry (Kadhi)

Ingredients

1 cup cooked and cooled rice (that’s aproximately 1/2 cup when uncooked)

1 medium onion, finely diced

1 small/medium potato, grated

100g sweet potato, grated

125g of finely shredded cabbage

3 cloves of garlic, minced

1-2 green chillies, minced and 1-2 green chillies chopped

1 tsp ginger minced

400g yogurt

Gram flour; 3 tbsp for the kadhi and 1 ½ cup for the dumplings

1 cup chapatti flour

4-5 curry leaves

A handful of chopped coriander leaves

The spices ½ tsp ajwain/Carom seeds, 2 tsp cumin seeds (1 of which is toasted lightly), salt to taste, ½ tsp turmeric, pinch of asafoetida, ½ tsp mustard seeds, stick of cinnamon, 2 cloves.

Method

  1. In a very big bowl, combine the cooked rice, cabbage, onion, sweet potato, potato, minced garlic, 1tsp of toasted cumin seeds, carom seeds, salt to taste, ½ tsp turmeric and the minced chillies and mix thoroughly to ensure the spices coat all of the vegetables.  Don’t drain away the water from the vegetables, but allow the wetness to come through and this will help in bind the dough.
  2. Mix together the yogurt and the 3 tbsp of gram flour until smooth and there are no lumps
  3. Heat 2-3 tbsp of oil in a big, heavy bottomed and deep pan and add the asafoetida, chopped chilli (es), curry leaves, minced ginger, cinnamon, cloves, cumin seeds and mustard seeds and allow the mustard seeds to pop before adding the gram flour and yogurt mix and some salt. Add 11 cups of water and bring to a simmer on a medium heat.
  4. Then add the chapatti flour and 1 ½ cups of gram flour to the rice and vegetables, add 2tbsp of vegetable oil and 2tbp of water and mix thoroughly to make a dough.
  5. Grease your palms and make tight sausages no longer than the width of your palm and drop them into the kadhi that is simmering in the deep bottomed pan. When they are all in, simmer for approximately 20 minutes, stirring intermittently to avoid the dumplings sticking to the bottom of the pan. You will know when they are done as you wont see the grains of rice so much and the inside looks meaty, rather than floury.
  6. Sprinkle over the coriander leaves and serve hot!

Deena’s No-Rice, Comforting Vegetable Khichdi

7 Nov

As the nights draw in and the brisk chill hits, as many of us emerge from work, it feels like it’s been evening just all day long. I love the scene of the streets in the evening; smoky and poetically aglow with fog misted street-light. With Christmas decorations and jingly background signatures already making an appearance, it’s starting to feel like a Dickensian Yuletide already. As I walk hurriedly, hugging myself under layers of wool and faux fur, I’m careful not to slip on the glistening paths that will lead me home to the sweet welcome of comfort food.

Comfort foods are gentle, nurturing and soothing. For me they are also foods that throw me back with duvet-soft smiles to good times; to times of being cajoled by my parents to protein-and-carb-up when I was an unwell girl, or times when I had been making beautiful memories whilst on dream-like holidays, cherishing birthday celebrations with family and friends, or those cosy nights in together – just my husband and I. It is times like these, that I want to be cuddled by the warmth of my home and soak up the gentle kisses of one of my all-time favourite comfort foods; Khichdi.

Khichdi is a buttery light blend of soft and smooth lentils and rice. I see Khichdi as one of the kings of traditional home-cooked food and unsurprisingly, it was popular with the great mughals. The magic of Khichdi is widely appreciated across Pakistan, northern India, eastern India and Bangladesh. The dish can also be found simmering away inside the kitchens of many Indian states like Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Bengal (where it is called Bengali: খিচুড়ী khichuri). In Bengali tradition it is customary to cook Kichuri on rainy days.

Hugging a bowl of vegetable khichdi in the comfort of your home and listening to the patters, splashes and roars as the heavens unleash is incredibly soothing as we know, but as someone on a low GI diet I was dismayed to hear that Khichdi is not the way forward. The reason for traditional khichdi being a low GI diet faux-pas is much the same as why mashed potato would be so wrong, and that is that the rice in khichdi is cooked down to a mushy consistency which increases the GI level. When you love a food enough, there is usually a way to enjoy it in a healthier way so I have found a delicious solution using bulgur wheat that will definitely press all the right sensory buttons, perhaps leave you feeling a little virtuous and won’t make you feel sluggish!

My recipe includes vegetables, so you get a nutritious meal in a bowl. Now, for those of you already familiar with khichdi please don’t let your memories of eating stodgy and bland versions put you off this recipe. My dear friend did that very thing this weekend when I suggested making this dish, which I proclaimed I could eat all day long. ‘No…’ she stressed. ‘I won’t like it; it just doesn’t taste of anything’. I made it regardless as I do love a good challenge, but also I was certain that this recipe, spiked with warming ginger, garlic, whole spices and full of vegetables, could evoke an enchanted sigh from her.

Deena’s No-Rice, Comforting Vegetable Khichdi

Ingredients

300g of split green moong dhal

180g of Bulgur wheat

½ head of a small/medium cauliflower, cut into bite size florets

One small/medium potato, peeled and cubed

A large onion, diced

1/3 cup of green beans

1/3 cup of sweet corn kernels

A handful of green beans, chopped into bite size pieces

2 large and fat cloves of garlic, minced 1 tsp of minced ginger

3 tbsp of rapeseed oil

2-3 green chillies, finely chopped

The spices A pinch of asafoetida, ½ tsp turmeric, 3 cloves, 4-5 curry leaves, salt to taste, 1 tsp cumin seeds, ½ mustard seeds, ½ tsp coriander seeds ¼ tsp black pepper

Method

1. Set the mung dhal to boil for 20-25 minutes. It should turn to a mushy consistency, but not be completely smooth.

2. Soak the bulgur wheat in boiling water, filling the level to just a couple of centimetres above the bulgur wheat

3. In a large and deep bottomed pan, heat the oil and then add the asafoetida, turmeric, curry leaves, cloves, coriander seeds and mustard seeds. Allow the mustard seeds to pop, and then add the chillies and sauté for a minute on a low flame. Stir in the diced onion and sauté until they start to soften. Then add in the minced ginger and garlic and continue to sauté until the onions are transparent.

4. Mix in the cauliflower, potatoes and green beans and then add the salt and black pepper. Allow them to cook for 7-8 minutes, or until the potato is soft enough to pierce through.

5. Gently stir in the mung dhal and the bulgur wheat, with two cups of warm water and simmer on a medium to low flame for a further 7-8 minutes. The khichdi should not become solid, but remain a smooth consistency.  If it starts to turn solid, add more water, until it is smooth in texture.

Go on, Hug a bowl of this delcious stuff.