Month: December 2014

Thank You

As I reflect upon my first year blogging about food-centered traditions in What’s For Dinner?, I have definitely learned that a shared meal inspires a connection to communities both past and present. The grains and spices, which seem unique to a place, have already traversed across the globe and been adapted in other landscapes and cultures. These intersections between cuisines are what inspire me, and I hope to continue bringing them to your table. I look forward to learning from you and invite you to share some of your traditions (or suggestions on what you would like me to cover) in the comments.

I would like to thank the bloggers and readers who have shared, commented, and faithfully “liked” my blog in its first year. I wish everyone a peaceful and prosperous New Year!

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Stock to Soup

When A. and N. visit, I always make their favorite foods – a continued legacy from my mother’s practice that signaled my welcome home. Their choice of meals is always the same, but I surprised them this week when I made Pho, the Vietnamese soup, from one of their favorite restaurants. Like all nourishing soups, Pho (pronounced fuh), begins with a flavorful stock.

Stock or broth, a term used interchangeably, is the foundation of a wholesome soup. Making stock is as simple as adding meat, or vegetables and peelings, or fish bones to a liquid (usually water) and letting everything simmer for an extended period. Some recipes add spices, herbs, or sauces during the cooking time to deepen the flavor, but making stock usually requires very little attention. The long-simmered liquid is called a stock if the solid contents are discarded or a broth if some of the meat or vegetables are left in the dish. The stock and broth then become the base for soup. Both stocks and broths can be made ahead — a time-saving options for busy holiday-cooking days. The stock can be bulked up with cooked grains or protein and garnished with fresh aromatics for a substantial soup.

Preparing Stock

  • Add the ingredients (meat or vegetables) to a pan. Fill and cover them with cold water. Bring it to a boil and immediately lower the heat. Simmer between 2-3 hours for meat, 30-40 minutes for fish and vegetables, or until tender (vegetables) or falling off the bone (meat).
  • Skim the scum off the surface. The “scum” is the protein content that is released from meat, lentils, and a few vegetables that float to the surface as dirty-brown foam. Add water back if some liquid is lost in the skimming process.
  • Do not salt. Add salt only when the stock is made into soup.
  • Once cooled, the fat from the meat stock floats on the surface. This can be removed for a lower calorie soup.
  • The cooled stock can be frozen for 3-4 months. In a refrigerator, a stock remains fresh for 3-4 days.

 

I was thinking about recipes to make ahead of time, when I ran into a Vietnamese acquaintance at a grocery store. I didn’t need a recipe when I heard the list of ingredients for pho – a whole chicken, onion, fresh ginger, and star anise spice – a fail-proof, nutritious stock that could be made in advance.

Chicken Pho

Chicken – 1 whole

Onion – 1 large, chopped

Ginger – 3-4, ½-inch slices

Star anise – 3, whole

Fish sauce – 3 tbsp

Dried rice noodles –1 packet

Bean sprouts –1/2 cup

Green onion – 1-2, roughly chopped

Cilantro – ½ bunch roughly chopped

Basil – a few leaves

Lime – 1, cut into wedges

Hot sauce (Sriracha) – to taste

Salt – to taste

  • Add the chicken, onion, ginger and star anise to a pan with enough cold water to completely immerse the chicken.
  • Bring the water to a rolling boil. Turn the heat down and cook for 2½ -3 hours on simmer.
  • As the chicken starts to cook, a foamy bubble scum forms on the surface. Skim the scum off with a spoon or ladle.
  • Once the liquid is clear, add the fish sauce.
  • When the chicken is tender, (the bones separate), strain the liquid through a colander. Reserve the stock and keep the chicken pieces. Add salt to the stock.
  • Meanwhile, soak the rice noodles in a pan filled with cold water for an hour. Then cook in boiling water for a minute.

To assemble:

  • Fill a bowl with rice noodles. Ladle the hot stock over it.
  • Top it with chicken, a few bean sprouts, green onion, cilantro, basil, and a wedge of lime. Add the hot sauce.

 

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One Cup of Semolina: Three Tastes Semolina Snack (uppamav)/ Couscous (Part 1), and Gnocchi (Part 2)

One of my favorite Indian breakfasts (although I could eat it at as a snack or dinner too) is a semolina dish called uppamav. Its creamy texture is my comfort food, with a hint of aromatic ginger and a nutty crunch. Uppamav, couscous (or couscous pearls), and gnocchi are all made from semolina, the inner yellow endosperm of a variety of protein-rich wheat grain called durum wheat. While gnocchi is made using semolina flour, uppamav and couscous are made with semolina granules. They have this silky consistency because the granules easily absorb water, causing the grain to swell and soften.

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This makes uppamav and couscous a filling meal – the same grain appears in various guises in the Middle East and Israel, North Africa, and the Asian subcontinent. The fluffy couscous is paired with meat stew (in Africa) and combined with dates and pistachios and perfumed with saffron (in Israel and the Middle East). In North Africa, couscous is steamed in a couscoussier. It is a specially designed pot, featuring a steamer perched above the main pan that slowly stews the meat and vegetables. The process can be replicated with a homemade steamer, but the process is time-intensive as the couscous cooks slowly in the steam.

Semolina grain cooks quickly in boiling water, allowing the couscous to plump up and soften. The couscous pearls, which are bigger semolina granules, look like orzo or rice. The flavors vary when water is substituted with broth, stock, or wine or by adding vegetables or meat. Semolina dishes make a versatile standalone dish bulked up with meat or vegetables or can be served plain as an accompaniment to a stew.

 

Semolina (Couscous Pearls) with Soprasetta

Semolina or couscous pearls – 1 cup

Oil – 3 tbsp

Shallot – 1, finely chopped

Ginger – ½ -inch, finely grated

Garlic – 3 cloves, finely chopped

Cooked meat  (soprasetta) or de-veined raw shrimp  – ½ cup

Saffron – 3-4 strands, soaked in 1 tbsp. warm milk

Salt and pepper – 1tsp

Water and white wine combined – 1¾ cup

  • Heat a pan with oil. Add the shallots and cook until golden brown.
  • Add the ginger and garlic for a about a minute.
  • Add the water and wine to the pan. Add the salt. Bring it to a boil.
  • Add the shrimp and cook it for two minutes.
  • Add the couscous in small batches, stirring vigorously as each new batch is added. Cover and cook on a low heat for 3 minutes for semolina and about 8 minutes for couscous pearls. The water should be fully absorbed.
  • Add the cooked meat and fresh pepper.
  • Fluff the semolina. Add the soaked saffron and milk. Serve warm.

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In Indian cooking, semolina granules are used to make both sweet and savory dishes. The following recipe combines previously cooked or frozen vegetables to serve either as a complete vegetarian meal or as a side dish for meat consommé.

 

Semolina With Mixed Vegetables

Semolina granules – 1 cup

Shallot – 1, finely chopped

Ginger – ½ -inch, finely grated

Serrano chili – 2, chopped

Oil – 3 tbsp

Mustard seeds –1 tbsp

Lentils – 2 tbsp. (any, as it is for the crunch)

Chopped mixed vegetables (frozen) – ½ cup

Cilantro – ½ bunch, washed and roughly chopped

Cashew nuts – 2 tbsp. (optional for garnish)

Salt – 1tsp

Water – 1¾ cup

  • Heat a pan. Add the semolina (no oil) and sauté for about 3 minutes, until it is heated through and has a war aroma. Keep aside.
  • Clean and heat the pan. Add oil to the pan.
  • When the oil is warm, add the mustard seeds.
  • Once it starts to pop, add the lentils and sauté until it changes color.
  • Add the chopped shallot and sauté until brown.
  • Add the ginger, chili, and cashew nuts and sauté for a minute.
  • Add the frozen vegetables or cooked fresh vegetables and sauté for a minute.
  • Add the water and salt and bring the water to a boil.
  • Add a third of the toasted semolina to the boiling water, stirring vigorously to prevent it from clumping. Add another batch and keep stirring, until the final batch is added. Cover and cook on a low heat for 3 minutes. The water should be fully absorbed.
  • Fluff the semolina. Serve warm. Garnish with cilantro.

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No-Sugar Indulgences for the Holiday Season

When A. and N. come home, the first thing that they do is check to see if there are desserts in the refrigerator or pantry. We all love our last course! For a month-long holiday celebration, I decided to substitute some sugary treats with healthier options. I drew my inspiration from two sources commonly used in Indian sweets: dried fruits and nuts. At this time of the year, most pantries have leftover nuts from making cranberry bread and pecan pie or dried fruits in preparation for the upcoming Christmas, Ramadan and Hanuka celebrations. It is easy to spare both to make a no-sugar indulgence.

Dried fruits are often combined with flour and sugar mixture, as is the case with fruitcakes. Nuts are normally mixed in with corn syrup or sugar – think peanut brittle. Both ingredients, independently, need sugar to bond them together. When the nuts and fruits are combined, the dried fruits replace sugar to give the confection its sweetness and the nuts give it heft. An added advantage of this recipe is that you can use any combination of nuts (walnuts, cashew nuts, or almonds) and dried fruits (figs, dates, raisins, cranberries), creating a good way at the end of the holidays to use up any spare ingredients.

Dried Fruits and Nuts Bark

Dried fruits (any combination of figs, dates, prunes) – 1 ¾ cup, chopped into small pieces

Dried cranberries or raisins – ½ cup

Nuts (any combination of walnuts, cashew nuts, almonds) – 1 cup

Butter – ½ tsp to grease a cookie sheet

  • Toast the nuts in an oven or on the stove. Chop them in a food processor.
  • Heat a pan and add the chopped up dried fruits and cranberries. Add 4-5 tbsp. of water. Cook them on a low heat until they turn into a sticky mass (about 3-4 minutes).
  • Add the chopped nuts to them. Remove the pan from the stove.
  • Mix together the nuts and dried fruits until you can roll them into a ball.
  • On the greased cookie sheet, roll out the ball until you get a ½-inch thick rectangle. Cut into smaller squares.

 

Semolina is a wheat grain, which is ground into flour to make pasta dough. In Indian cooking, semolina granules are used to make both sweet and savory dishes. As a dessert, semolina granules are combined with molasses (jaggery) or sugar and bonded with nuts and dried fruits to make barfi. They are served at every auspicious function as ladoo. Cooked semolina has a mild taste, and its soft texture pairs well with nutty flavors and gooey dried fruit in the following recipe.

Semolina with Dried Fruits and Nuts

Semolina – 1 cup

Dried fruits – 1 cup, diced

Cashew nuts – 1 cup

Butter – 1 tbsp

Salt – ¼ tsp

  • Boil 2 ½ cups of water with the salt.
  • While waiting for the water to boil, heat a separate pan.
  • Add the semolina to the pan and stir continuously until it has a warm, toasted aroma. This step is to prevent the semolina from clumping together later. Keep aside in a plate.
  • Add butter to a clean pan. When the butter melts, add the cashew nuts. Brown them evenly by constantly stirring. Keep aside.
  • Cook the dried fruits with 4-5 tbsp. of water on low heat until they turn into a sticky mass (about 3-4 minutes). Keep them aside.
  • As soon as the water boils, add the toasted semolina in small amounts. Stir and mix continuously to prevent it from clumping together. When all the water is absorbed, continue to cook for a minute until the semolina looks fluffy.
  • Add the nuts and dried fruits and mix them in with the semolina.
  • When the mixture has cooled, make small balls. Top it with a cashew nut.

 

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Inspired by Molecular Cuisine

I was treated to a meal a year ago at wd~50, Wylie Dufresne’s restaurant which closed its doors around Thanksgiving. I wasn’t initially sure about the fuss over molecular cuisine with its beet foam made with immersion blenders and canisters of nitrous oxide and its fluid gel creations made with agar-agar. However, I came away intrigued by his arrangements and combinations of food such as “peas” (carrots coated with freeze-dried pea powder) and hangar tartare with cucumber curls. Like deconstructed art or modernist literature, I find that the key to appreciating experimentation is to trust your own visceral experience with the food.

As I stacked my shopping cart with the same old ingredients (turkey, potatoes, leeks, and cranberries) and fought the usual madness in the stores leading up to Thanksgiving, I decided to elevate the ordinary up a notch. I drew on Dufresne’s quote, “It’s seeing pita and thinking hummus,” for inspiration to address at least one dish from my Thanksgiving menu. Looking at traditional pairings of Thanksgiving meals, I played around with the idea of cranberries and mashed potato. I combined them so that biting into a bejeweled “cranberry” morsel yielded the surprising flavor of mashed potatoes.

Cranberry Surprise

The dish combines the sparkling texture of dehydrated cranberries and comforting taste of mashed potato. As I don’t own a dehydrator, I dried the cranberries in the oven on low heat which helps maintain the fruit’s rich red color.

Cranberries – 12 oz

Potatoes – 1 large

Butter – 2 tbsp

Salt and pepper – to taste

 

Preheat oven to 150ºF

  • Wash and drain the cranberries.
  • Place the cranberries in a single layer on a cookie pan lined with foil. Cover the berries with kitchen paper to absorb the moisture.
  • Bake for 6 – 6 ½ hours, rotating the pan occasionally. The dehydrated cranberries will have a papery texture.
  • Grind them in small batches in a coffee or spice grinder. Store the powdered cranberries in a mason jar.
  • Boil the potatoes.
  • Drain and mash them well.
  • Add the butter and mix in thoroughly until the potatoes are creamy and smooth.
  • Season the potatoes with salt and pepper.
  • Make cranberry sized-balls with the mashed potatoes.
  • Coat the mashed potato balls with cranberry powder. Dust off excess powder.
  • Serve warm.

 

Note: You can also use dehydrated cranberry powder to rim the lip of a glass filled with a cranberry cocktail!