Naked Samosas

At the farmers’ market on Saturday, I bought some pea shoots. I’ll admit, I hadn’t eaten breakfast and was rather hungry, so I bought about six cups of pea shoots. I was excited, too, which might have contributed to my overbuying; I’ve never seen them for sale, so I’ve never had pea shoots except for at restaurants. On those occasions, there have always been about four or five artfully arranged atop whatever I’ve ordered, and it’s never been enough to satisfy.

So this was my chance to do what I like to do with produce: overindulge.

Is that possible?

I didn’t have a plan for them; I knew I could eat them as sprouts or wilt them slightly. I came into the kitchen around 4:45 that afternoon. I remembered that we still had some potatoes from a batch Chimp had bought a while back for something. I used to be such a potato lover, and I hardly eat them any longer. There were four, though, and I figured I could make Chimp some mashed potatoes and throw some wilted pea shoots on top of them. That would be nice; potatoes and peas, very homey.

I also had some chickpeas soaked and ready to cook. I could put pea shoots on top of those like I usually do spinach or arugula with some lemon and olive oil, I thought. That would be nice too, though it would be kind of a weird dinner…mashed potatoes and chickpeas, both with pea shoots.

Then, like a bolt out of the blue, I thought Peas and potatoes. Samosas. Samosas sometimes have chickpeas in them too. Holy cats, this could be great! Spiced potatoes, garlic- and red pepper-spiked chickpeas, garlic-laced pea shoots with a tiny squeeze of lemon…oh boy. This could seriously go somewhere.

What I ended up with, as you see above, is a sort of naked samosa, made up of the typical ingredients in samosa filling, except the peas are replaced by pea shoots. It tastes phenomenal. I have to say, I think these are some of the best potatoes I’ve ever made – and I have made many, many potatoes.

I’ve doubled the potato recipe from what I made in order to create an even number of servings of all the components.

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Chickpea Pancakes with Shredded Zucchini

This is another example of getting halfway there on the Eat Local Challenge: the zucchini are emphatically from around here. These were the first organic zucchini I’d seen this season; they came from K.M.K. Farms of Kingsburg at the Vineyard Farmers’ Market, as did the green onions.

However, the chickpea flour for the pancakes was bought at Whole Foods and is good ol’ Bob’s Red Mill, from Oregon.

Even if they’re not local, I love these little chickpea pancakes, which are adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian. Learning to make these was worth the price of the book. They’re easy as pie, gluten-free, delicious, incredibly versatile, and relatively fast if you have two small non-stick skillets. I’ve made a version before that she suggests with peas and cilantro added, which is wonderful as well, but these are the plain-Jane version, the batter for which you can whip up in about three minutes.

The way they’re spiced now, these pancakes would make a wonderful wrapper for a great many vegetarian dishes – just about anything with an Indian flavor would work well, from chickpea stew to buttered greens to spiced potatoes to roasted cauliflower.

Shredding is one of the tactics I’ve begun using more since I’ve had chronic fatigue syndrome, when I have the energy to cook, and zucchini lends itself especially well to it. The food processor does most of the work, and shredded vegetables cook in an instant. If I have enough energy to stand and chop an onion, I can make this filling.

The raita I made for this was an arugula one; this would be equally good with a cucumber, cilantro or mint raita, but arugula was what I had. It had a nice peppery bite.

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Danger Sev

I started three little fires while making this.

The rule from now on is that sev is made in the deep fryer ONLY, never in a pan on the stove which can too easily boil over. It’s amazing nobody went to the hospital.

I now have far less baking soda than I did last week.

Sev, fried noodles made from chickpea flour, are an essential part of chaat (Indian street food) dishes like bhel puri, a mix of it, chopped onions, tomatoes, cilantro, puffed rice and spices. I never get around to making bhel puri; I eat sev like potato chips. It’s also great on top of salads to add crunch, or on top of soup, especially very spicy lentil soup.

In order to make this, you really need a sev machine, which is something like the child of a cookie press and a potato ricer, but not entirely like either.

You can also buy sev, but I can’t find that brand (my favorite) here in Fresno, and besides, there’s a far slimmer chance of setting your kitchen ablaze and getting to douse it with a liberal sprinkling of baking soda (it never fails to amaze me how well that works) when opening a bag of snacks.

Here’s someone who has clearly mastered the technique; a wide, deep pot (like the karhai shown) being essential.

(While I was writing this, I found this fascinating antique wooden sev press for sale; if anyone has a spare grand around, I’d love to have it in my home.)

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Vegetarian Rogan Josh

I’ve been flipping through The Foods of India in the last week or so. It’s been sitting unused for a long time.

I have a pile of Indian cookbooks; this is the only one that isn’t vegetarian. I’ve never bothered to buy non-veg Indian cookbooks as a matter of course. It was a gift, though, and I love the look of the book. However, it’s rather amazing that a book could be written about the food of India and end up predominantly devoted to meat dishes. But it’s absolutely beautiful; a coffee-table book, for sure.

Though large, (too tall for my cookbook shelves in its coffee-table sized format) this book isn’t comprehensive, of course, no volume on the food of India could be. It’s mostly focused on Northern Indian dishes, and actually, it’s a pretty good guide to the foods of India that you would usually see in an Indian restaurant in the U.S.

There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, if you want to learn how to make Butter Chicken, or just look at a phenomenally beautiful photograph of it, why not?

But I’ve always felt bad about not making better use of it, since Indian food is by far my favorite thing to cook, and I always need new ideas to try out. It appeals to the part of me that likes complex problems and well-developed concepts. I find it more rewarding to make an Indian dish than something in which the method is easily revealed, as all the component parts are readily identifiable. Making vegetables on top of pasta just doesn’t light my fire.

I’ll admit, I’m pretty ignorant when it comes to Indian meat dishes. There’s never been any reason for me to learn them. The fortunate thing about them, though, is that unlike dishes in Continental cuisines, which tend to focus strongly on particular cuts of meat that must stand on their own, many Indian meat dishes are sauce-based. This is a boon for vegetarians, as it’s far easier to replace cubed pieces of meat than a rack of lamb. (Replacing the rack of lamb is where we get into the Compensating Vegetarian territory, already discussed.)

The Rogan Josh recipe I ran across in this book was one such. The sauce sounded great. I knew that Rogan Josh was lamb, but I really didn’t know any more about it than that. Reading around, I figured out that it’s a Kashmiri dish. Chunks of boneless lamb, onions, garlic, ginger and yogurt are common to all the recipes. Beyond that, the spices vary, but the closer-to-the-source recipes seem to include cardamom, cinnamon, bay, cloves and paprika. (The original in the book bears a very striking resemblance to Madhur Jaffrey’s Rogan Josh.)

Chunks of boneless lamb could just as well be chunks of boneless tofu, I thought. (Some omnivores may guffaw here, but the herbivores might nod along.)

So I made it, with tofu and cauliflower instead of the lamb. As always, this is an adaptation with significant changes from the original recipe. Chimp thinks this is great – I think it still needs a little work. If I do this again, I’ll probably deep-fry the tofu first instead of roasting it near the end – that would help the texture be more meatlike.

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Baby Turnips and Greens in a Moghul-Style Sauce

The finished dish here may photograph about a two, but it tastes a ten.

This is an entry for The Spice is Right #1, the theme of which is “Ancient Spices.” Finally, a blog event that makes sense for me to participate in – no wine or eggs or such required!

To get ideas together for this challenge, I thought I might take a flip through Dalby’s Dangerous Tastes, which sits on my food bookshelves in the living room (the cookbooks have their own bookcase in the kitchen). However, that never happened. It was a chance encounter with some baby turnips in the produce section at Whole Foods on a Sunday afternoon that set this entry in motion.

I had come to the store without much of a list, which can be great fun when the seasons are changing as they are right now. I found green garlic available, and picking that up, I thought I’d get some radishes for a highly springtime-y radish/fennel/asaparagus/green garlic/dill salad. While picking out my radishes, I looked down and saw the smallest, sweetest, greenest-leaved new turnips.

Mr. Man-of-Few-Words Produce Guy was standing next to me, stacking bags of the ubiquitous whittled carrots.

“These turnips look wonderful.”

“Yep. Picked on Thursday.”

“T&D Willey?”

“Yep. Madera.” (About 20 miles away from where we were standing.)

I selected three small bunches. “Well, they’re getting cooked tonight.”

He grunted. I took this as a sign of approval.

As noted in the title, this is a Moghul-style dish. Dishes named for the Moghul period (from the early 16th century to late 19th century – perhaps not truly ancient in the term of India’s civilization, but well before my time) are those that are supposed to have been concocted for and particular favorites of the Moghul rulers. The dishes are generally richly sauced with the inclusion of yogurt in the sauce’s preparation, light on vegetables (the Moghuls were big on meat) and warmly spiced. Though the spices used are undoubtedly ancient, it’s that recipe and cooking method date of provenance I’m using to tie this back to the “Ancient” part of the challenge, rather than focusing on a single ancient spice. The original inspiration for this recipe was a lamb-and-turnip dish I came across in an Indian cookbook and resolved to put to my own herbivorous purposes. It had no greens in it. If you’re buying turnips with tops, you have to use them – they’re delicious.

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Soup Technique

I made a recipe I haven’t used in years last night and was reminded of a good broth technique for vegetarian soups.

When I was about 20, I received Yamuna Devi’s book Lord Krishna’s Cuisine. It was my go-to cookbook for years, as I made my way through it, learning what urad badis were and how to combine spices and make homemade milk fudge. My copy reflects all of that. It’s yellowed and turmeric-stained and a little wavy on some pages from wet fingers repeatedly turning from the first page of a recipe to the second.

Many of the recipes have copious notes from my first attempts in the margins. I made this on January 10, 1996. I’ve written around the illustration of the spine being sliced off a cabbage leaf that there was a huge snowstorm the night before – about 2 feet of snow was on my car that morning.

This is a fine winter-ingredients soup – cabbage, carrots, nothing unusual there. However, what sets it apart is its approach to creating the broth.

Broth can be an issue in vegetarian soups, and that’s where this recipe shines. Chicken or beef stock is a quick way to create flavor in non-veg soups. For herbivores, there’s always the option of vegetable bouillon – I love this stuff from Organic Gourmet, as the paste form feels more flexible to me – and somehow more foodlike – than a pre-measured bouillon cube. The problem with always relying on bouillon is that all your soups tend to come out tasting the same.

In this recipe, split lentils and coriander seeds are covered with boiling water and allowed to steep for an hour, then ground until smooth in a food processor. Aromatics are added later in the process. This creates a smooth, creamy-textured, lightly spiced broth without the soup becoming overtly a lentil soup. It’s wonderfully delicate and flavorful.

The dal called for by the recipe is toovar dal, also spelled as tuvar dal or toor dal. They’re yellow split peas, basically. Devi suggests substituting moong dal for variety; I used the moong dal pictured above.

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Apple Salad

This one is going up after a conversation about what you can put cardamom in. The note in the book it comes from (Lord Krishna’s Cuisine) says I made this recipe for an apple demonstration back when I was working for Big Natural/Specialty Supermarket Chain in September of 1995. I remember liking it a lot.

1/4 c. yogurt or sour cream
2 T. chopped fresh mint
3 T. ground blanched almonds
1/4 t. cardamom seeds, crushed (you may use powdered cardamom if that’s what you have)
2 T. orange or lemon juice
3 medium-sized apples, cored and diced
1/2 c. seedless grapes, halved

Blend the yogurt and sour cream, mint, almonds, cardamom and orange or lemon juice in a mixing bowl. Fold in the apples and grapes, cover and chill for at least 1/2 hour before serving.