Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Chickpea (Chole) Masala

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We're moving out and moving on! Soon, we will be in our new digs all the way on the other side of the Bay. We'll miss the Peninsula and everything it has to offer. But for now, the rubberneck week is hard to get through. To reduce the number of items that we must move, I've challenged myself to cook from the pantry and the freezer. You too can make this spicy and fragrant Indian dish if you have some pantry staples and a well-stocked spice rack. No trip to the grocery store required.
  • 2 15-ounce cans of diced tomatoes
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped into large chunks
  • 5 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 1 inch piece of ginger, peeled
  • 1 cup of dried chickpeas
  • 2 tablespoons of canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon of cumin seed
  • 3 teaspoons of ground coriander
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of chili powder
  • 3 teaspoons of cumin
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons of garam masala
  • 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
  • 2 Bay leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper (or 1 green chili, seeded and minced)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of dried mango powder (optional)
  • salt to taste
  • chopped cilantro (optional garnish)
Soak dry chickpeas in water for 4 hours (or overnight). Cook chickpeas in a large pot of boiling water seasoned with salt for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until cooked but not mushy. Drain. Set aside.

Place ginger, garlic and onion in a food processor. Pulse until the mixture has a paste-like consistency. In a large skillet, heat up 2 tablespoons of canola oil. Add cumin seeds and fry until fragrant, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add onion, ginger and garlic mixture. Cook over medium heat until oil separates from the mixture. Add ground coriander, cumin, chili powder, cayenne powder (or minced green chili) and ground cinnamon. Stir to combine. Add diced tomatoes. Season with salt. Cook until oil separates again. Add garam masala, dried mango powder and cooked chickpeas. Stir to combine. Adjust seasoning if necessary. Cook for another 15 minutes over low heat. Garnish with chopped cilantro. Serve over some Basmati rice.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Garlic Rosemary Potato Pizza

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Potato pizza is nothing new. In fact, we shared a potato truffle oil pizza at Pizza Antica recently. I thought I'd make a home version of it, replacing the decadent truffle oil with something more economical but equally flavorful.
  • 1 portion of your favorite pizza dough recipe (try this one)
  • 1 pound of potatoes (I use baby red potatoes, but baby Yukon potatoes or fingerling potatoes will also work)
  • 1 1/2 cups of shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 3 sprigs of rosemary, divided
  • 4 cloves of garlic, divided
  • 3 2-inch strips of lemon peel
  • 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • chopped parsley (optional garnish)
Place potatoes in a large pot filled with cool tap water. Make sure that the water is at least one inch above the potatoes. Cover and cook until water boils. Set timer and cook for 5 to 8 more minutes. Insert a paring knife into a potato. The knife should slide in with slight resistance. The potatoes should be about 75 percent cooked. Remove from heat and drain. Set aside and allow potatoes to cool. Once cooled, slice potatoes into thin slices.

Pour 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil into a small sauce pan. Add 2 sprigs of rosemary, 2 cloves of crushed garlic, and 3 strips of lemon peel. Place sauce pan over low heat. Cook for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and steep. Once the oil is cool, remove rosemary, garlic and lemon peels.

Roll out the pizza dough. Brush on garlic rosemary infused olive oil. Sprinkle on 2 cloves of minced garlic and 1 sprig of minced rosemary leaves. Top with shredded mozzarella cheese. Top with a single layer of potato slices. Brush the potato slices with more garlic rosemary oil. Bake in 500 degree oven for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the crust turns golden brown. Remove from the oven. Sprinkle with coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper. Garnish with chopped parsley.

The garlic and rosemary add wonderful flavors to the pizza. Because I roll the pizza dough super thin, the crust is crispy. Also, since not a ton of cheese is used, the pizza is relatively light despite the potatoes.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Mozzarella,Tapenade, and Roasted Bell Peppers On Foccacia

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I baked Foccacia for the first time. It was actually not as difficult as advertised. I followed the rosemary Foccacia recipe from Jack Bishop's The Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook. It was simple, delicious and didn't require a ton of work.

To complete the sandwich, I add roasted bell peppers, tapenade, mozzarella, and tomato slices. Then, I put the sandwich in a 275 degree oven on top of a pizza stone for 10 minutes. The low heat barely melts the cheese while the pizza stone keeps the bread crispy. The salty tapenade, creamy mozzarella, sweet roasted bell peppers and refreshing tomato slices are excellent together. Pair this sandwich with a simple side salad for a flavorful meal.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Summer Tomato and Olive Pasta

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Speaking of tomatoes, I thought I'd take advantage of the ripe summer tomatoes while they are available. This is tomato at its best -- simply prepared and delicious. And this dish takes about 15 minutes! It doesn't get better than this.
  • 3 large ripe but firm tomatoes, cut into large chunks
  • 15 pitted black olives, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 15 basil leaves, julienned
  • 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 pound of pasta (I used angel hair here, but other kinds are also fine)
  • salt to taste
Saute minced garlic in a large skillet with 2 tablespoons of olive oil until fragrant, about a minute. Add tomato chunks. Lightly press tomatoes into the pan with the back of a spoon or a spatula. Cook until tomatoes begin to soften, about 2 minutes. Add chopped black olives. Cook for another 3 to 5 minutes. Add basil. Toss together until basil becomes wilted but remains green. Toss together with 1/2 pound of cooked pasta. Adjust seasoning if necessary. Generally the olives are fairly salty, so you may not need any salt at all. Serve with some olive oil drizzled over the top, if desired.

This is so simple but oh so good. The tomatoes really complements the salty meatiness of the olives. Basil adds some freshness to this excellent summer dish.

Roasted Tomato and Fennel Soup

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I find summertime tomatoes to be so irresistible. They are ripe, plump and sweet. I found some really amazing tomatoes at my local market and I thought they would make a flavorful soup.
  • 5 large tomatoes (preferably ripened on the vine), quartered and seeded (reserve seeds)
  • 1 large fennel bulb, cored and sliced
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoon of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of tomato paste
  • 4 cups of vegetable stock
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons of butter, cubed
  • 2 slices of bread (I used plain whole wheat bread), cubed
  • 2 tablespoons of heavy cream (optional)
  • salt to taste
Place tomato chunks in an oven-proof dish and sprinkle with sugar. Roast tomatoes in 275 degree oven for 2 hours.

Sweat onion in olive oil until translucent, about 5 to 10 minutes, and then add minced garlic. Cook for another minute. Add sliced fennel and cook for another 10 minutes or until the fennel slices start to soften. Add butter and allow it to melt. Cook for another minute. Add reserved tomato seeds, roasted tomatoes, tomato paste, vegetable stock, and bread slices. Cook until all the vegetables are soft, about 5 to 10 minutes. Season with salt to taste. Blend the vegetables together into a smooth soup using a regular blender or an immersion blender. Add cream if desired.

The soup is velvety but light. The bread and fennel give this soup some body and texture without adding heaviness. The cream makes it even more luxurious. The soup is also incredibly tomato-y. Roasting intensifies the tomato flavors and makes them extra sweet. This is definitely one of the best soups that I've made. I dare say it's better than some of the tomato soups that I've had at restaurants.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


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Since our place smells like Indian food already and no amount of Febreze can change that, why not make the matter worse and cook up some more fragrant and delicious Indian food?

Sambar is a dish generally consists of split pigeon peas (toor daal), eggplant, green peas, winter melon, potato, onion, tomato, tindora, tamarind, and a laundry list of spices. I can't claim to be proficient in making Indian food nor do I want to spent 20 dollars on spices, so I got a box of sambar spices with an indecipherable recipe printed on the back. I don't know if the recipe was properly followed, but I do know that the result is an aromatic and hearty soup full of vegetables.

To top that off, we had homemade masala dosa with some store-bought chutneys and idli. Overall, a pretty delicious meal, even if we had help from a box of spice mix.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Indian and Middle Eastern Dinner Night

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We go out for Indian food with some frequency. I've really acquired a taste for it. I don't even miss the meat when I have Indian food. When there are enough spices, vegetables can taste darn delicious. To prove the point, I've cooked the most vile vegetable on earth -- the cauliflower. It's disgusting and I've hated it with intense passion for years. It's bland and bitter. When it's overcooked, it gets all gross and mushy. In my opinion, there's just no good way to eat it -- except the Indian way.

From the left going clockwise, I made aloo gobi masala (spiced cauliflower and potatoes), palak paneer minus paneer (spinach without paneer cheese), and soybeans with garlic and dill. To supplement our delicious dishes, we had Basmati rice and Naan on the side. The dishes were so flavorful that I forgot I was having cauliflower. That's a good thing.

If soybeans for an Indian meal sounds odd, it's because soybeans with garlic and dill is not an Indian dish. It's actually an Iranian dish. I wasn't quite sure how it would taste after reading the recipe (Really? Soybeans with dill and turmeric?), but it turned out to be surprisingly delicious with a mild sweetness from the onion and turmeric.

Monday, September 7, 2009

'Meat' balls with Homemade Tomato Sauce

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Sometimes we buy frozen meatless 'meat' balls to supplement our many pasta meals. So I thought I'd make some 'meat' balls at home for a change. But I think I sort of accidentally made falafel. In any event, these 'meat' balls are pretty good, especially with a thick and hearty homemade tomato sauce.

For the 'meat' balls:
  • 1 cup of dry chickpeas
  • 1 medium potato (I used a Yukon gold potato), peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and cut in half length-wise with root attached
  • 1/2 of a medium onion, cut into large chunks
  • 1 garlic clove, smashed and peeled
  • 1 Bay leaf
  • 2 cups of parsley, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup of rolled oats
  • 1 tablespoon of chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons of paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon or to taste of cayenne pepper
  • salt and pepper to taste
Cook dry chickpeas in a large pot of seasoned water along with Bay leaf and 1 onion until chickpeas are well cooked. It may take anywhere between 45 minutes to an hour. With 15 minutes left in the cooking time, add potato chunks. Remove Bay leaf and onion. Reserve 1/2 cup of cooking liquid. Drain. You can also use 1 15-ounce can of cooked chickpeas to save time. But I prefer using dried chickpeas because you can infuse flavor during the cooking process.

Place cooked chickpeas and potatoes in a food processor, along with 1/2 of a medium onion, garlic, rolled oats, parsley, chili powder, paprika, and cayenne pepper. Pulse until the mixture can easily be formed into small balls. Do not over process, otherwise the 'meat' balls will be dense. If the mixture is too dry, add some of the cooking liquid. Adjust seasoning if necessary.

Using wet hands, form small balls of the size of ping pong balls. You should be able to make about 20 'meat' balls. Place 'meat' balls in an oven proof pan sprayed with canola oil and bake in 450 degree oven for 30 to 40 minutes. Turn the 'meat' balls half way into the cooking process.

For the tomato sauce:
  • 2 15-ounce cans of diced tomatoes
  • 1 medium carrot, diced
  • 3 stalks of celery, diced
  • 2 medium onions, diced
  • 1 Bay leaf
  • 1 tablespoon of tomato paste
  • 1 cup of dry red wine (preferably Italian)
  • 1 cup of basic vegetable stock
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of dry Italian herbs (a combination of rosemary, oregano, basil, parsley, and thyme)
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon of sugar
  • salt and pepper to taste
In a large pot, saute carrots, celery and onion in olive oil until the vegetables are softened and slightly brown, about 5 to 10 minutes. De-glaze the pot with red wine. Make sure to scrap up bits from the bottom of the pot. Cook for about 2 minutes. Add canned tomatoes with all the juices, vegetable stock, tomato paste, Bay leaf, Italian herbs, sugar, salt, and pepper. Cover and simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Stir occasionally.

Allow the mixture to cool. Using a standard blender or an immersion blender, blend together all the vegetables. The sauce can be canned or frozen into ice cubes for later use. I prefer canning because tomatoes can react to plastic and cause it to taste funny.

I've used this tomato sauce recipe many times to make baked pastas. It's rich, complex and flavorful. With a different choice of carbohydrates, this can easily turn into spaghetti with 'meat' balls or 'meat' ball subs.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Orzo Garden Salad with Lemon Thyme Vinaigrette

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It's hard to make a bad dish using summer produce as long as you keep it simple and use fresh ingredients. And that's what I've done with this dish -- just a simple and classic way to bring out the ripe flavors of fresh summer produce.

For the lemon thyme vinaigrette:
  • 1 shallot, chopped fine
  • juice from 3 lemons
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 3 sprigs of thyme
  • 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
  • salt to taste
  • lots of fresh ground pepper
For the orzo garden salad:
  • 1 pound of orzo
  • 3 medium tomatoes (preferably vine ripened), chopped
  • 1 large seedless cucumber, chopped
  • 3 cups of loosely packed baby spinach
  • salt and pepper to taste
Whisk to combine all the ingredients for the vinaigrette. If the vinaigrette does not emulsify, add 2 teaspoons of warm water and whisk. Set aside.

Cook 1 pound of orzo in seasoned water until al dente, about 8 to 9 minutes. Drain. Add tomatoes and cucumber and toss with half of the lemon thyme vinaigrette. Cover and let cool in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour. When the salad is cool, add spinach and the remaining vinaigrette. Adjust seasoning if necessary.

When making such a simple dish with very few ingredients, it's important to season properly and use fresh quality ingredients. I tried adding some cheese to the pasta salad but it doesn't need any cheese to be delicious. To me, this is the best kind of summer food -- simple, refreshing and easy to make.