Volunteer Plants & Other Garden News

Volunteer Plants & Other Garden News

I was gone for a week and some weeds came up here and there – mostly just purslane and oxalis in the planting bed that has the majority of the garden – but additionally there were four weedy-looking things, three of which had gotten quite large, in the bed where we most recently buried a batch of compost. I yanked three of them out this morning and then realized I smelled a familiar smell from their foliage. I looked at the roots of the plants and realized that one still had a seed attached to it. It looked like a melon seed, which, though possible, seemed unlikely, since it’s been quite a while since I’ve bought a melon. No organic ones around in the winter, really. Then I brought the “weeds” up to my nose and gave them a good sniff, and realized I had just pulled out three pretty well-established volunteer cucumber plants. For those of you not aware of this bit of plant-relative minutiae, cucumbers are part of the melon family. Back in the ground they went, but I think I’ve done them in. I’m bummed – but there’s one left I didn’t pull out which I can tend to. And the next cucumber I buy, I’ll be sure to dry and put some of the seeds in the ground.

I’ve occasionally seen corn seedlings coming up there, also from the compost, but those I’ve just pulled up – seems like too much bother to try to get corn going. All of this may be an indication that my compost isn’t “cooking” at as high a temperature as it should be in the bin, but – oh well.

Speaking of sprouts, I tried to sprout some of my coriander seeds before I left for Chicago, thinking I might be able to get out of buying seeds or plants to put in the garden, but they didn’t germinate. I would guess that they’re irradiated. Looks like I’ll just have to buy seeds.

In other garden news, pretty much all of the tomatoes seem to have some small fruit on them now. They are still going like gangbusters. One sprouted what seems to be a new major branch while I was gone and scaled the rosebushes. I have knit it into the cage as best I can. Another is rapidly approaching the top of the privacy fence. I suspect that I was supposed to pinch these tomatoes back at some point to force more of the plants’ energy into the fruit. I may have small finished tomatoes.

One of the mystery pepper plants I got from Dovey has three good-sized banana pepper-looking fruits on it. It’s the one getting the most sun, the one that wasn’t being eaten alive by the encroaching tomatoes until I wrestled them into cages – the rest have blossoms but no obvious fruit yet, except for one very small greenish-purple pepper. The habaneros are all looking far more robust than when I left – they’ve put out a new crop of leaves and are harboring what look like the beginnings of fruit.

And what’s going on in the mint cage match, you ask? Believe it or not, the chocolate mint and the spearmint are horning in on the Italian oregano, which looks like a 90 lb. weakling in comparison. The marjoram is sending out shoots where it has been pinched, but it still is excessively leggy. I pinched back the chocolate mint again today. It’s a sneaky bugger. It had already put a runner halfway down the side of the cedar tub it’s growing in in an attempt to get into the ground. I snipped that off and a batch of other runners too. I haven’t been able to figure out much to do with the chocolate mint – every time I pinch it back, its very strong aroma convinces me that it would be great in homemade ice cream, but I lack an ice cream maker. It’s too characteristic a peppermint smell for me to want to substitute it in the places I usually use fresh spearmint.

I pinched back the basil, too – it was starting to put forward a few tops, though none of them had blossomed yet.

Chickpea-Flour Pancakes

In Hindi, these are called poora, and they’re much better than both that name and the English title sounds. They’re thin and tender, and the peas and seasonings give them a nice aromatic lift. We had these stuffed with curried potatoes. Madhur Jaffrey, the author from whom the original recipe came, suggests serving them with raita or chutneys, or using them as a bread with just about anything. I think they could also be employed, once prepared, to make a sort of Indian enchilada.

The original recipe calls for these to be fried in a non-stick pan with about a teaspoon of oil per pancake, with more dribbled on the top side, which is then turned over. I didn’t find that to be necessary. These can be fried in a non-stick pan with very little oil. I used an oil sprayer to mist the top of the pancakes with a little oil before turning them. This worked just great, though of course, those pancakes that I did fry in a great deal of oil were quite tasty too.

Additionally, the original recipe called for 2 c. of water to make the batter – and that just seemed like too much to me. I’ll experiment with increasing it to that amount, but previous chickpea-flour batter experiences made me wary of adding that much water.

You can find chickpea flour at Indian groceries – I know Bob’s Red Mill makes one too, but I’ve never seen it in a store anywhere.

2 c. chickpea flour (besan)
1 t. ground cumin seeds
1/4 t. turmeric
1/4 t. cayenne
1 t. salt
1t. finely minced fresh ginger
1 t. finely minced green chili
1 T. finely minced cilantro
1 c. cooked green peas (frozen is fine), mashed

Sift the chickpea flour, cumin, turmeric, cayenne, and salt into a medium mixing bowl. Slowly stir in 1 1/4 cups of water with a wooden spoon, stopping while the batter is still pastelike to get rid of all lumps, then slowly adding the rest of the water. Add the ginger, chili, cilantro, and green peas and mix well. Set the batter aside for 30 minutes. Strain it through a sieve if it is still lumpy.

Place a medium non-stick skillet over medium-high heat and heat for a few minutes. Add a small amount of oil to the pan. When hot, stir the batter from the bottom and ladle about 1/4 cup into the pan. Quickly tilt the frying pan around to spread out the batter. Spray the top of the pancake with a little oil. Cook the pancake for about 2 minutes, or until the bottom is golden-red in places. Turn the pancake over and cook the second side for a minute, or until it too has golden-red spots. Remove to a plate and keep covered with an overturned plate. Continue making pancakes until all the batter is used. Serve immediately. Makes about 10 pancakes.

New Rice (Pilaf)

I bought a bag of Brown Jasmine Rice (something new from them, as far as I know) from Lundberg Family Farms (a longtime favorite of mine) this past week at Whole Foods. I cooked some last night. It’s awesome – definitely better than their brown basmati. I usually use their brown long-grain rice, but I think this is better. I can’t say for sure, since I cooked the rice as a pilaf rather than plain, but it was awfully good. I highly suggest you (yes, you) buy a bag and try it.

I buy rice bagged, even though I’m perfectly willing to buy beans in bulk – I have had experiences with rancidity when buying bulk rice, even at reputable stores. With brown rice, unless you use it at the rate of a couple of brown-rice-loving-vegetarians, it’s best to store it in the fridge. Set it in there next to your whole-wheat flour.

Here’s a simple pilaf I make from time to time. I’m going out of town tomorrow, (the National Restaurant Association show) so we had this with a totally random chickpea curry which used up a sprouting onion, three fresh tomatoes, a lonely green pepper, and half a bottle of tomato juice. I realized that I don’t have a chickpea curry recipe up on this website at all, and I have about four that I really like, so I should get on that. I’ve also made a couple batches of chapati recently, but I’m still working on getting it just right. I think I might have an old Cook’s Illustrated with a flatbread recipe in it – I’ll have to dig that out.

2 c. brown jasmine rice
4 c. water
1 medium onion, chopped
½ c. slivered or sliced almonds
2-3 T. oil
1 T. butter
pinch of saffron threads
8-10 whole peppercorns
salt to taste

Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Drop in the onion and sauté for a minute or two, until just starting to soften. Add the almonds and sauté until the onions are near translucent. Add the rice and sauté, stirring occasionally, until a few of the grains have picked up reddish spots. Pour in the water and add the butter, saffron threads, peppercorns, and salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat until the water remains just above a simmer. Cover and cook undisturbed for about 1 hour, until all the moisture is gone.

Mogul “Lamb” with Turnips

Okay, I have to get this one posted before the weekend ends. This…is….so…good. I cannot even begin to tell you how good it is. It’s going to be a new standard recipe of mine. There is a beautiful full-page shot of this recipe in The Food of India published by Murdoch Books, which I got recently. (It was published in the UK, and I can’t find it listed on Amazon, or else I’d put up a link.) I took one look at the picture and decided I had to make this dish. Of course, in the cookbook it’s lamb and I’ve used seitan, but it’s truly, absolutely, unbelievably wonderful. I upped some of the seasoning a little bit because seitan wouldn’t bring as much nuanced flavor to the dish as lamb would, but it was already a pretty highly seasoned recipe to begin with. This isn’t hard, either. It is a little expensive – three containers of seitan – but I swear I’m going to do some experiments on how to make seitan at home. I have the gluten flour, I just have to find a good formula.

The amount of oil is ridiculous, I know – wanting to be true to the recipe the first time I made it, I used the full amount, but I think it could be reduced by half and still be good, though it would lack the glorious oily juiciness. It’s Indian-restaurant-level oily – not quite Afghan-restaurant-level oily.

The note in the book says this recipe is usually reserved for special occasions (the amount of oil is certainly a special-occasion amount) and served with chapatis or naan. I made chapatis.

2 onions, roughly chopped
6 garlic cloves
5 cm piece of ginger
2 green chilies (serranos)
1/2 c. oil
2 bay leaves
3 packages White Wave Chicken-Style Seitan (it’s the kind in the tofu tub with the yellow label. I know chicken-style isn’t lamb-style, but vegetarians don’t have that many seitan styles to choose from.)
pinch of asafetida
1/2 t. cayenne powder
2 T. ground coriander
2 T. ground cumin
1/4 t. turmeric
1/2 t. garam masala
2 T. tomato paste
2 T. plain yogurt
1 T. salt
1 t. ground black pepper
2 lbs. turnips, peeled and quartered (it’d be nice if you could find baby ones – I had some the week before I made this, but when I went back I struck out.)
1 c. minced cilantro

Put the garlic, ginger, and chilies in a food processor and chop them to form a paste. Heat all the oil except 1 T. in a large, deep pan and add the onions, the mixture from the food processor, and the bay leaves. Fry over medium-high heat for 5 minutes, then reduce the heat to medium and fry for another 2 minutes. Don’t let the onions turn more than golden brown. Add the seitan, increasing the heat if necessary, and stir until all the pieces are thoroughly coated with the onion mixture. Fry for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. The seitan will brown somewhat.

While the seitan is frying, add the last T. of oil to a small frying pan and heat over medium-high heat. When it is hot but not smoking, add the asafetida, cayenne powder, coriander, cumin, turmeric and garam masala and cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly. Be careful that it doesn’t burn. When the seitan is finished frying, turn the fried spice mixture into the seitan. Add the tomato paste and yogurt. Fry for another minute and add the salt and pepper. Place the turnips in the pan, pour in 2 c. water, cover the pan, and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

If you have a pressure cooker, you can bring the stew to pressure, cook for 15 minutes, then release the pressure under running water.

When the stew is finished cooking, add the cilantro and stir gently. Serve with flatbread.

Dum Aloo

(The Dum Aloo in this photograph was made on July 2, 2006.)

I tried something new and made what turned out to be an unsuccessful Dum Aloo recipe last week. This is not that recipe. This is the Dum Aloo recipe that I usually use, the one that is reliably successful. It’s from Madhur Jaffrey’s World of the East Vegetarian Cooking, a book I first encountered on an Indian cookbook search in the Bobst Library at NYU. The Bobst Library is an overwhelming place – it goes straight up, basically, as many things have to in New York City. The floors of stacks all look down on the rather op-art marble tile of the ground floor lobby – it’s vertigo-inducing, both looking up from the ground floor and looking down from the stacks. This will give you the idea:Bobst Library

I didn’t spend much time there – I did some research there for a few papers, sure, but as an acting student, I didn’t have much need of it in the first couple years, which was as far as I got. I can remember walking around there when I was there working on an educational theatre paper, watching the students studying and thinking that not spending much time in the library made me feel out of place in the library, something I had never felt before. I spent a lot of time in the Fairfax City library in high school, among others, and I sat in the media center (nee: library) pretty much my whole junior year at lunchtime.

So anyhow, on the day I checked this book out, I got it and another Indian cookbook, the title of which I no longer know. I photocopied a bunch of pages out of this book and the other, and I tucked them into a binder that I had just started using for recipes on loose pieces of paper. It had some from other cookbooks, some I had had my mom tell me that I had transcribed. Later it acquired some I cut off of packages and wrote out on cards. I haven’t added much to the binder in the last few years – that I have more money for books and a greater proclivity to store things electronically have contributed to that. At the time, though, neither of those things were an option, so I made a bunch of copies, mostly of chickpea dishes and potato dishes. This was one of them, and one of the first ones I tried. I can remember, in 1993, measuring out the water and salt to soak the potatoes at the beginning of the recipe, and setting them on our dining/living room table, thinking to myself, “Is this soaking really going to make a difference?” I then remember being amazed at the difference the soaking had made. I was thrilled with the recipe. I still like it.

When we got married, the Madhur Jaffrey book, which I still didn’t own a copy of, was one of the things on our Amazon wishlist. Matt Rassette, a good friend of Michael’s, was kind enough to give it to us. I still have the photocopied pages – and I should really transfer the notes I made on the gravy-spotted pages into the book and just shred and compost them. Another thing to do When I Get Time.

I just recently picked up Madhur Jaffrey’s new World Vegetarian– I haven’t even had a chance to read it yet, really – but it looks just as overwhelming and delightful as the World of the East book did to me as an 18-year-old, living somewhere unfamiliar away from my family and friends, staking out my young adult identity through my love of food.

Dum Aloo gets its name from the main ingredient (Aloo means potatoes) and the cooking method employed (Dum, which basically means covered baking – traditionally done with a tightly sealed pan set in smoldering ashes, with additional live coals placed on the lid. This you can do with a tightly sealed pan on a stovetop. It’s a little involved, but the result is a nice gravy-laden potato dish. It could probably be pressure-cooked, but I haven’t tried that yet. Next time.

Don’t be intimidated by the length of the ingredients list – most of it is spices.

12 smallish potatoes (about 1 1/2 lbs.)
1 1/2 T. plus 1 t. salt
8-10 blanched almonds (1/2 oz.)
2 T. white poppy seeds (Indian markets sell them, often labeled as “khus khus.” If you don’t feel like hunting them down, an equivalent amount of ground almonds will be fine.)
1-2 large black cardamom pods (use 1 or 2 depending on how brave you’re feeling. They have a strong smoky-camphor flavor.)
2 t. ground coriander seeds
1 1/2 t. whole cumin seeds
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
a 1-in cube fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
8 T. vegetable oil (ghee will taste even better, if you have it.)
1 medium-sized onion, peeled and minced
5 whole green cardamom pods, very lightly crushed
1/4 t. ground turmeric
1/8 t. cayenne pepper
1 c. plain yogurt
1 t. garam masala

Peel the potatoes and prick them well with a fork. Soak them for 1 hour in a bowl with 4 c. water and 1 1/2 T. salt.

Meanwhile, put the almonds, white poppy seeds, black cardamom pods, ground coriander, and 1 t. of the whole cumin seeds in a small cast-iron skillet and dry-roast them, stirring frequently, until the almonds turn golden in spots. Remove the black cardamom pod(s), crush it open, and remove the seeds. Discard the outer husk. Put it and all the other roasted ingredients into the container of a clean coffee grinder and grind as finely as possible. Set aside. (I use a food processor for both that step and the next step.)

Put the garlic and ginger, along with 1/3 c. water, into the container of an electric blender or food processor. Blend until you have a smooth paste. Leave in blender or processor container.

When the potatoes have soaked for an hour, drain and wipe them well. Heat oil in heavy, 10 in.-wide pot, sauté pan, or deep skillet over a medium flame. Put in the potatoes and fry them, stirring, until they turn a golden brown on all sides. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside on a plate.

Add the remaining 1/2 t. whole cumin seeds to the oil in the pot and stir once. Now put in the minced onion. Fry, stirring, until the onion turns a light brown. Add the crushed green cardamom pods, the turmeric, and the cayenne. Fry and stir for a few seconds. Next put in the garlic and ginger paste, the nut and spice mixture, and 1 t. salt. Stir and fry the mixture. Whenever it seems to dry up and begins to get ready to catch at the bottom, add a tablespoon of yogurt. Keep stirring and frying, adding yogurt whenever necessary, until all of the yogurt is used up. It is important that the yogurt fry and assimilate slowly with the sauce. This can only happen if a little yogurt is added at a time.

Add the garam masala and 1/2 c. water. Mix well. Put in the browned potatoes and mix gently. Cover the pot tightly with aluminum foil, making sure you crimp and seal the edges, and then with its own lid. Turn heat to very low and cook gently for about 30 minutes or until potatoes are cooked through. Stir gently a few times while the potatoes are cooking, always replacing the foil and the lid. The potatoes should have a very thick sauce clinging to them when they are done.

Serve with flatbread.

Julienne Vegetables Redux

We said goodbye to “winter” here in Fresno with one last vegetable roast. I had noted in the Julienne Vegetables recipe in the Potatoes section that one could substitute other vegetables in to good effect. This weekend we did some of that, and came up with stellar results. It was so good that I wanted to share, even though it’s just a variation.

1 large onion
1 lb. small red potatoes
5 small turnips (they were so cute; I hated to roast them)
1 small celery root
3 large carrots
5 ribs celery

The seasoning and execution was the same.

Pea, Potato, and Panir Curry

I have notes on this from 2002 and 2003 saying that Michael likes this. He still does. It’s from Neelam Batra’s The Indian Vegetarian.

I have made it in my pressure cooker before, and I find that gives the right just-falling-apart texture to the potatoes. If you don’t have one, you can still make it – you’ll just have chunks of potatoes rather than nubbins. No biggie.

Two notes to append to the wonderfulness of this recipe: 1. I think flatbread is a better foil for this than rice is. 2. This is very good as written, but if you want to gild the lily, dose it with a few tablespoonfuls of heavy cream. If you don’t have heavy cream around (and I understand if you don’t, believe me), you can toss in a couple tablespoonfuls of plain full-fat cream cheese, believe it or not, and it will do the same thing. Cream cheese keeps a lot longer than heavy cream, too.

2 T. clarified butter or vegetable oil (I use a mix of oil and regular butter)
1 t. cumin seeds
1 T ground coriander
1 t. ground cumin
1 t. dried fenugreek leaves (I know these are hard to find unless you’re near a well-stocked Indian grocery – it’s not the end of the world if you leave them out.)
1/2 t. paprika
1/2 t. turmeric
1 t. salt, or to taste
2 c. finely chopped fresh tomatoes (canned will work, but it’ll throw the acid balance off – fresh plums are better, even if they’re only so-so in terms of ripeness)
1 serrano pepper, seeds & membrane included, minced
1 c. loosely packed finely chopped cilantro, soft stems included
1 T. peeled and minced fresh ginger
2 c. chopped potatoes (I use a waxy type, not bakers)
2 1/2 c. frozen peas (or 1 1/2 lbs. in pods)
1 – 1 1/2 c. water
8 oz. panir cheese, cubed
1/2 t. garam masala
3 T. chopped cilantro

Heat the butter/oil in a large nonstick saucepan over moderately high heat and cook the cumin seeds, stirring, until they sizzle, about 10 seconds. Stir in the coriander, ground cumin, fenugreek, paprika, turmeric, and salt, then add the tomatoes, serrano, cilantro, and ginger and cook until most of the liquid from the tomatoes evaporates, 7-10 minutes. Add the potatoes and cook, stirring, until all the liquid from the tomatoes evaporates, 3-4 minutes. Add the peas and water. Cover the pot and cook, first over medium-high heat for 3-4 minutes, then over medium-low until the potatoes are tender, 20-25 minutes. Stir occasionally.

Mash a few potatoes to thicken the gravy. Add the panir and simmer for 4-5 minutes, stirring carefully. Sprinkle in the garam masala and cilantro, and serve.