Sunday, November 22, 2015

Turkish Cabbage Rolls

I follow this delectable Turkish food blog.  Ozlem's Turkish Table has recipes that drip authenticity. An enthusiastic, descriptive teacher and blogger, she has a talent for out of the ordinary preparations. She gathers from experience, from family, so every now and then we are treated to a meander through a Turkish kitchen... All delightfully delicious. 

Her last post intrigues me. Cabbage rolls filled with ground beef and bulgar, cooked in a sauce of lemon and olive oil. I am inspired enough to recreate. Plain cabbage is replaced with Savoy cabbage, because I like the veined look of these leaves. Fresh mint in place of dried, as fresh is more flavorful. Just a few adjustments to the original and I'm ready to roll cabbage leaves. 

The filling is kneaded well. Cabbage leaves are separated and boiled. The braising liquid is easily assembled. Keep paper towels handy!! A messy prep leads to neat packages. They fit snugly in a Dutch oven. Liquid is poured over the rolls. I place a plate over the rolls. The plate is topped with a bowl of water. This weighs down the rolls, making sure they do not unravel while braising. The lid goes on and it cooks undisturbed for forty five minutes. Anticipation is the name of the game!

Makes 6-8 rolls

6-8 Savoy Cabbage leaves
8 oz ground Beef
1/2 cup Bulgar
2 tablespoons fresh Mint leaves
1 small Onion
Handful of Parsley leaves
1/2 teaspoon Cumin powder
1/2 teaspoon Chile Flakes
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
Freshly cracked Black Pepper
1 teaspoon Olive Oil
2 cloves Garlic
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1/2 teaspoon Chile Flakes
2 teaspoons Olive Oil
1 Lemon, juiced 
10 fresh Mint leaves, chopped fine
1 teaspoon Tomato Paste 
2-3 cups Water
Freshly cracked Black Pepper 
1/2 cup Yogurt, whisked smooth

Start by boiling 4 cups of water in a large saucepan.

Once water has boiled,  add cabbage leaves a few at a time. Cook leaves for 3-4 minutes, then drain leaves in a colander.

Assemble the filling by placing beef and bulgar in a bowl.

Mince onion into very fine dice and add to beef.

Finely chop mint and parsley leaves and add to beef.

Season with cumin, chile flakes, salt, pepper and olive oil. Use your hand to knead beef well. 

Pat the cabbage leaves dry. Using a sharp knife cut out the rib in the center of each leaf. Discard hard centers.

Take about 2-3 tablespoons of filling and pack it into a cylindrical form in the center of the leaf. Start rolling the leaf by covering the filling with lower leaves. Tuck leaves tightly over the filling. Tuck left and right sides into the center, then roll leaf forward till you have a tight cylinder. Repeat with other leaves. The filling should be adjusted according to the size of the leaves. 

The braising liquid starts with peeling garlic cloves. Mash garlic in a mortar and pestle with the salt. Spoon out into a bowl.

To the bowl add chile flakes, lemon juice, mint leaves, tomato paste, olive oil, 2 cups water and black pepper.

Arrange cabbage rolls in a saucepan. They should fit in snugly. 

Pour the braising liquid over rolls. The liquid should cover at least 3/4 of the rolls. If needed, add more water to the saucepan. 

Place saucepan over medium heat. Bring liquid to a slow simmer. Place a plate or lid on top of rolls. Place a bowl of water on top of the plate. Cover saucepan with a lid and let rolls simmer for 45 minutes. 

Uncover lid. Gently lift rolls and arrange on a platter. Pour remaining liquid over rolls. 

Enjoy rolls accompanied with whisked yogurt.

 I am excited as I uncover the lid. I eagerly stick my face into the saucepan. I am not disappointed. I love what I see and inhale. The rolls take on a lacy look, the Savoy cabbage giving the rolls a distinct pattern. Steam escapes as I fork a bite. The bulgar has fluffed nicely. Meat takes on the seasoning flavors. Paired with yogurt, the rolls taste meaty, wholesome. With some help from Ozlem, the taste of Turkey travels easily to my table.   

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Corn and Shishito Pepper Soup

Carla gives me a coffee table Mexican cookbook. Fonda San Miguel, a revered Austin restaurant, binds their beloved recipes into a stunning book. The corn soup is by far my favorite. 

This is not a soupy soup. It's a hefty puree, a ladleful that pools on a spoon. A mouthful of pure unadulterated corn flavor. You start by slicing off shucked corn using a sharp knife. My technique is to hold the ear vertically in wide bowl. Corn bits fly across the counter, but almost all of them land in the bowl. I slice in a downward motion going all the way to the bottom, rotating corn as I slice. There are a plethora of devices on the market that make this job easier. I prefer the vertical slice method. Blitz corn kernels with milk. Not too smooth, as you want to taste bits of corn. This gives the soup its signature taste. I add a pat of butter, lightly season with salt and pepper and a quick simmer... And soup is good to go. 

Garnishes are requisite. The recipe calls for poblano peppers. But my current obsession is Shishito peppers. I blister some in a pan and float them on the soup. I fry a blizzard of tortilla shreds till golden brown, the must-have crunch the soup needs. Some shredded spicy cheese adds a  distinct flavor. All I want for is a spoon.

Serves 4

4 ears fresh Corn OR 4 cups frozen Corn
4 cups whole or 2% Milk
2 tablespoons Butter
3/4 teaspoon Kosher Salt
Freshly ground Black Pepper 
2 cups Shishito Peppers
1 tablespoon Canola Oil
2 flour Tortillas 
1 cup Canola Oil 
4 tablespoons shredded Monterey Jack with jalapeƱos

If you are using fresh corn, remove outer husks and silk. Stand corn vertically on a plate or a bowl and remove kernels with a sharp knife. Rotate corn as you slice. Do this carefully as ears tend to slip occasionally. 

Put the cobs in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a low simmer for 5 minutes. Use the corn stock to thin the soup if desired. 

Frozen corn needs to be defrosted before using. 

Blend corn and milk till almost smooth. You might have to do this in batches.

Pour pureed corn into a saucepan. Place saucepan over medium heat.

Once soup has bubbled, add butter, salt and pepper. Let soup simmer for another 5 minutes. If desired, use the corn broth to thin out the soup. Season soup accordingly.

Remove stems of shishito peppers. Cut into 1 inch pieces.

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in saucepan. 

Add peppers and saute over a high flame till flecked brown for 5-7 minutes. 

Heat a cup of oil in wok or frying pan. 

Cut tortillas into thin shreds and deep fry in hot oil till brown. Drain on paper towels. 

Divide soup into 4 bowls.

Top with shishito peppers, Monterey Jack cheese and fried tortillas. 

All I need is big spoon as a big appetite is a given! Nothing warms the soul like a bowl of hot, crunchy, spicy soup. The stomach too!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Black Pepper Chicken

Sometimes a recipe grabs you by the throat. This one does. Except that the recipe calls for tofu. Not my favorite food. But then I think, what if I use chicken in place? Would it work? If it doesn't, I would be in big trouble as it is a simple dinner tonight. Sweet corn soup, chicken and fried rice.  Two out of three wouldn't quite work. I go ahead with the experiment. 

Chicken thighs have the flavor quotient I am looking for. When cut into bite size pieces they retain moisture and taste, no matter which way they are cooked. Boneless skinless thighs have little fat. They are a better alternative to breast meat. Then again, it's my opinion. Feel free to use your choice of chicken parts!

Unlike most Chinese food where there is a lot of slice and dice, this recipe has an ease of prep. I chop ginger and garlic finely. Green chiles are sliced on a bias. Sauces sit on the counter top. I'm not too sure about adding three sauces. Kecap manis adds a sweet touch, a good foil for the regular and dark soya sauces. The recipe calls for butter in place of oil, another variation which intrigues. I go to wok with a wooden spatula and a sense of discovery.

Serves 4

1 lb boneless skinless Chicken Thighs
3-4 tablespoons Cornstarch 
1/2 cup Canola Oil
3 tablespoons Butter
2 Shallots, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons finely chopped Garlic
2 tablespoons finely chopped Ginger 
2 Chiles
3 tablespoons Kecap Manis or Sweet Soy Sauce
2 tablespoons Soy Sauce 
2 tablespoons dark Soy Sauce 
2 teaspoons Sugar
2-3 tablespoons ground Black Pepper 
1/2 cup Cilantro 

Cut chicken thighs into 1 inch pieces. Wash and dry chicken.

Heat canola oil in a wok.

Coat chicken pieces in cornstarch. 

Fry chicken in batches, 6-7 pieces at a time, till brown and crisp. Drain on paper towels or on a rack.

Clean out wok. Place wok over medium heat and add butter.

Drop shallots, ginger and garlic into melted butter.

Slice green chiles on a bias and add to butter. Saute for 10 minutes till ginger and  garlic turns golden brown.

Add Kecap manis and both soy sauces, along with the sugar. Stir well till sauce starts bubbling. 

Turn flame to low.

At this point add the chicken to sauce and let it hang out in the sauce for 5-10 minutes.

Sprinkle pepper over chicken. Stir well to mix.

Serve chicken hot, garnished with cilantro.

As I wok and roll, I am inhaling the enticing aroma of garlic slowing browning in butter. The three sauces bubble in harmony. The dark brown sauce coats the chicken as it simmers. Generous amounts of black pepper give the chicken a tongue tingling taste. Simple fried rice and black pepper chicken emerge a perfectly matched duo. The recipe that's grabs me, spices up my dinner well!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Sanza or Semolina Hulva with Raisins

The Festival of Lights dawns to a charcoal gray sky. I draw rangoli on the front steps. Rain splatters wash away the delicate imprints. In spite of the dismal weather I feel joyous. Today is the beginning of a new year. An auspicious aura fills the soul. I gather materials to make an offering. A sweet of course.

It is to be an easy sweet. Something to please the gods and us. Sanza, as I have always called it, is a one-two-three dessert that comes together in a jiffy. You may know it as sheera, or semolina or sujji hulva or sweet upma. Made of rava or fine semolina, roasted in ghee and cooked in milk, sanza is usually served at puja times, ceremonious occasions or just because. In the U.S. you could use cream of wheat in a pinch. Bu you will find it is worth the effort if you could locate authentic Indian rava. 

As I roast rava, a delicious aroma envelopes the kitchen. Memories course through me. The tiny stove in my grandma's kitchen. My Mum doling out portions to us at the dinner table. Satyanarayan pujas where we use our fingers to eat sanza in bowls made out of leaves. There must a correlation between sanza and my trove of recollections!!!

Serves 2

1/4 cup Rava, Semolina or Cream of Wheat
1 tablespoon Ghee
1/2 cup whole or 2% Milk
1/4 cup Sugar
1/4 cup Raisins 
A pinch of Saffron

Heat ghee in a small wok or pan.

Add rava to hot ghee and stir to mix. Set the flame low. Keep stirring every few minutes. As the rava roasts it will emit a nutty aroma. Keep stirring till rava changes color from white to a light, toasty brown. Don't walk away as the rava browns really fast when hot. You do not want it to turn a dark brown.

Add milk, sugar,  raisins and saffron to rava. The milk will bubble violently when added. Pour the milk slowly so you will not get splattered on. Stir vigorously till mixed well. Cook rava on low heat for 10 minutes, stirring often.

The rava should be dry and crumbly.  Let the mixture sit for a few minutes.

Serve this dessert warm. 

A small helping is first offered to the gods. The New Year has started well. A not too elaborate sweet heralds in good times. Candles are lit, rangoli is once again laid out, a marigold toran is hung outside the front door. Dessert is ready. All that is missing are the firecrackers that signal the beginning of Divali. As always Shauna sings the Diwali song. Far from India I remember and reconfigure a festival dear to my heart.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Chicken Salad Sandwich

Vacations equate eating in excess. Coming home is reality setting in. Now that I am home lunch is to be a simple soup and salad. Chicken salad encased in sourdough sets the tone. I pair it with a piping hot Mexican tortilla soup. Lunch is as simple as can be.

The salad is a mild imitation of a Bobby Flay version and could be made with any type of cooked chicken. This versatile recipe uses leftover roasted birds, boiled chicken legs and store-bought rotisserie chicken with equanimity. Shred the cooked birds well. Coat the meat with mayo, mustard, onion, garlic, lemon and a bunch of herbs. You could well eat it as soon as it is assembled. tastes really good the next day. If you can wait! 

Serves 4

4 cups cooked Chicken
3-4 tablespoons Mayonnaise 
1/2 Red Onion
Mixed Herbs (1/2 cup Parsley, 4-5 sprigsThyme, 4 sprigs Oregano)
2 tablespoons grainy Mustard
2 tablespoons Lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon Garlic powder 
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1/2 teaspoon ground Black Pepper 
8 Sourdough slices

Shred chicken. Put chicken in a glass bowl.

Cut onion into thin slices.

Chop herbs finely.

Add all ingredients to shredded chicken. Mix well.

Refrigerate salad for a few hours so flavors will meld.

Butter slices of sourdough.

Mound two heaped tablespoons of salad on one slice.

Top with arugula.

Top arugula with a buttered slice. Repeat with the rest of the salad and bread.

Cut sandwich in half and chomp away!

Pleasure comes from simplicity. Today it is soup and a sandwich, the mainstay of an all American lunch and for us a delicious interlude in the throes of everyday life.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Roasted Delicata Squash

I look in amazement at a mound of delicata squash at the local grocery store. I am thrilled to bits as this rarely found squash is usually quite pricey. These red and green ribbed cylindrical gourds have come to my table through Shauna. Hooked, I am always on the hunt for them. So when this immense pile of pale yellow squashes beckons me with bargain basement prices, I grab more than just an armful.

Dear friends visit us. I want to cook something I haven't done in the past. I remember going on a delicata hunt with Shauna last year. After several attempts we find some and she makes an immensely mouth pleasing roast for us. I plan to follow suit. Ends trimmed, I halve the squash and then cut thin half moons. Their scalloped edges lie in a pretty pile on a baking sheet. Roasted in a blazing hot oven and then pan fried with onions results in an absolute delicious delight!

Serves 6

3 Delicata squash
2 tablespoons + 1 tablespoon Olive Oil
2 Onions
1 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked Black Pepper 
1 tablespoon fresh Thyme
1 tablespoon fresh Oregano
2 tablespoons Parsley 

Heat oven to 400F.

Wash and dry squash. Trim ends. Halve them vertically and scoop out seeds and strings with a spoon.

Cut squash into 1/2 inch pieces.

Line two baking sheets with nonstick foil. Spread squash strips onto sheets in a single layer. 

Drizzle 2 tablespoons of olive oil and a generous pinch of salt over squash.

Bake for 20-30 minutes till squash is golden brown. Watch them as they bake. You might have to move them as they roast on the baking sheet. Take squash out of oven.

Cut onions into thick slices.

Heat remaining olive oil in a saucepan.

Saute onions in oil till the edges are tinged brown. 

Add roasted delicata to onions. Season with kosher salt and pepper.

Chop herbs. 

Mound squash on a platter.

Scatter herbs over squash and serve.

The first batch I make is served with pasta. The second time around, I scatter plentiful herbs from Geet's garden over the squash. Both versions are a forkful of bliss. This is what the New World settlers must've felt when they discovered a new vegetable. The squash revelation causes quite the revolution. 

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Umbar or Sweet Plantain Fritters


Ganesh Chathurti in my house is a far cry from the flower-decked idol displays of my childhood. Across the seven seas religious rites languish, traditions morph, but the food remains the same. This day brings a flood of memories for Prassy and me. Recollections unfold in jumbles. Sitting on the floor, eating off bright green banana leaves. Resounding prayers accompanied by cymbals. The heady aroma of mogra flowers. A progression of special foods made once a year on this day. Much too detailed to describe, Pathare Prabhu distinctive cuisine emerges resplendent on this holy occasion. A vegetarian smorgasbord and a panoply of desserts to please all. Every year, I try oh-so hard to recreate these childhood culinary memories devoutly. 

Naivedya is prepared, a thali with chutney, raita, two veggies, bhajias, a coconut curry, varan bhaat( toor dal and rice that takes on another dimension on this day), masale bhaat( pulao ) and of course the desserts. One sweet is rice noodles swimming in coconut kheer. And the second is ripe yellow plantain fritters or as we call them umbar ( phonetically pronounced oomburr ) in Marathi. You need really ripe, blackened plantains. No bananas. I place plantains in a brown bag along with an apple. The bags sits for 4-6 days as they ripen. The apple enhances the ripening process. Mashed and mixed with a tad bit of sugar, a pinch of salt and rice flour, the batter should be mushy and lumpy. A potato masher does the trick. Now for the hard part...frying

Makes 15-20 bite size pieces

2 ripe yellow Plantains 
3 teaspoons Sugar
A pinch of Kosher Salt
3 tablespoons Rice Flour or more as needed
2 cups Canola Oil ( for frying )

Mash plantains with a potato masher in a bowl.

Add sugar, salt and rice flour. Mix well. You shouldn't have any rice flour lumps.

Heat canola oil in a deep saucepan or wok. It should be hot. Drop a small piece of batter into hot oil. It should bounce back to the surface in seconds. 

Test the batter by frying one rounded teaspoon of batter. Let it brown. It should not come apart as it fries. If it does, then add more rice flour to the batter in one teaspoon increments, till batter fries up firm. Drop rounded spoonfuls of batter carefully into oil. You should have 5-6 fritters in each batch. Do not crowd the pan. 

Fry fritters till golden brown, then flip and fry the other side. Watch them like a hawk as they brown fast. What I mean is do not walk away while frying them. Or else you will get petrified crisp black nuggets. I speak from experience.

Drain on paper towels. 

Eat them warm. If you have fried them prior to serving, reheat them in a low oven at 250F for 10 minutes.


The recipe calls for plantains, not bananas. They should be the ripe yellow ones, with black spots and soft to the touch. You could use bananas if you cannot find plantains, by the taste changes. 

You might need to add more rice flour to the batter as it depends on the ripeness of the plantains. Fry one umbar as test to see that it doesn't separate when frying.

Thalis gleam in the evening light. My guests are veterans of the serving process. They anticipate the orders and help me plate this enormous meal. We start the circle with green chutney and tomato raita. Then comes tendli pulao, varan bhaat, eggplant subji, cabbage subji, cauliflower curry, pumpkin bhajias and rice noodles or shev sitting in coconut kheer. Umbar have their own place in the center of the thali, golden sweet nuggets, crispy and crunchy. Roy, Marylou, Colleen and Keith are well versed in thali mannerisms. By that I mean they eat the meal with a fork and spoon.!!! Then I find Keith flexing his fingers!!! Forks or matter...this vegetarian feast religiously pays tribute to the God of good fortune.