Monday, January 30, 2012

Three Dal :: Meatless Masala Monday


This dal, or Indian lentil stew, is made of a mix of three different dal, or lentils. Yes, the word dal refers to both the lentil, stripped of its outer hull and split, and the spicy stew made from these lentils.

Traditionally dal is served over rice (and sometimes with roti) but honestly I prefer eating a bowlful of dal by itself. Dal is low in fat and high in protein, making it an ideal source of protein for a balanced vegetarian diet.

The three dal is infused with garlic, ginger, and green chile, finished with cumin and coriander scented oil with curry leaves, and topped with freshly squeezed lemon juice. If you don't have curry leaves, you can add fresh cilantro. Another variation of three dal is to add onions and chopped tomato.

For three dal, I like to use a combination of toor dal (split yellow pigeon pea), chana dal (Bengal gram dal), and masoor dal (split red lentil). Bengal gram dal looks similar to pigeon pea, but it is more similar to chick peas and doesn't boil down to a mush. Truth be told you can use any combination of the above mentioned dals and moong dal (yellow moong) and udad dal (white gram).

If you are familiar with dal, you might want to skip ahead to the recipe. For those of you new to dal, below is brief note about the different types of dal- there are many!

Top row, left to right: Chana dal, moong dal, urad dal, masoor dal
Middle row, left to right: rajma, whole moong, whole urad, whole masoor
Bottom row, left to right: whole vatana, toor dal
Dal, or split, hulled lentils
Chana dal... yellow, the outer skin of kala chana removed and the inside split
Moong dal... yellow, the inside of whole moong, split
Urad dal.. white, the inside of whole urad, split
Masoor dal... red lentils, the inside of whole masoor, split
Toor dal... yellow pigeon peas (oily or plain), split

Whole lentils (i.e., outer hull not removed)
Rajma...dark red kidney beans
Moong... dark green, whole moong is excellent for sprouting; also available as split but with skin
Urad... black whole, also available as split but with skin
Masoor...brown whole lentils
Vatana... green or white peas
(not pictured) Kala chana... small dark brown chick peas
(not pictured) Kabuli chana... chick peas used for chole

If you live an area with an Indian grocery store, you can easily find any of these dals at a relatively low price. I've seen the dals at Whole Foods as well. Otherwise, I've been told that Amazon, Kaluystan's, Bob's Red Mill have many of the Indian lentils available for sale online.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Heavenly Spinach Quiche


I am quite certain that this is the most heavenly quiche I have ever tasted. It might be the farm fresh spinach and onions or the wonderful fontina cheese or maybe it was the incredibly flaky homemade crust. Whatever the reason, each slice of this spinach quiche was absolutely like a slice of heaven with the most perfect consistency.

I made the delicious quiche for Sunday brunch and then we had to test whether it would make a delicious Sunday night dinner with some greens (it did).

I don't have to tell you how good Spinach is for you. We are always trying to find ways to eat more spinach (other than just adding it to salad greens). We love this wonderful spinach, cannellini beans spaghetti with garlic chips and using spinach in these quick, easy, and healthy tacos for no-fuss weeknight dinner. But more often than not, spinach ends up being part of brunch:  spinach, tomato, feta scrambled eggs, baked eggs with spinach in a tomato cream sauce, spinach, cheddar, red onion omelets, and now this heavenly spinach quiche.

For the crust I used my go to dough recipe but if you would rather not make your own crust, use a pre-made crust. Or if you are like me and can't find a decent store bought crust, skip the crust (and the extra calories) altogether for a delicious crustless quiche!

I find that quiche is very forgiving, so I like to play around with different types types of cheeses. Some quiche recipes rely on cream cheese to make the quiche silky and creamy and subsequently cut back on the amount of half and half.  For this quiche,  I added a bit of goat cheese to add creaminess, but you can skip this if you wish.

I used a combination of fontina, parmesan, and fresh goat cheese, but you can just as easily use gruyere in place of fontina and skip the goat cheese or use cream cheese instead. I sauteed onions and tossed in fresh spinach until wilted. If you wish to use frozen spinach instead, be sure to squeeze out as much of the water as possible otherwise you will end up with a runny quiche!

Then I simply whisked all of the ingredients together and poured into the parbaked crust (or buttered pie dish if going crustless).

Bake for about 25 minutes, or until set. The center of the quiche will puff up and then come to rest once it cools slightly.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Roasted Root Vegetables with Fennel


I'm a lover of root vegetables in any shape or form, whether in a gratin or simply oven roasted. This simple preparation is a wonderful way to enjoy an assortment of root vegetables. Yukon gold potatoes, baby white turnips, and fennel bulbs roasted to perfection with rosemary, onions, and whole cloves of garlic. It is simple yet full of depth and complexity from the contrasting flavors. Roasting brings out the earthy, sweet flavors root vegetables and makes them absolutely delicious.

A very wise man said to me, "The only problem with this dish is that there won't be any leftovers." I couldn't agree more.  We did, after all, eat it like candy.

This is one of those side dishes that I'm certain would outshine any meat that is served next to it. For a vegetarian dinner, serve it alongside braised winter greens with roasted winter squash and cannellini beans for a balanced meal.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Pav Bhaji :: Meatless Masala Monday


This post marks the start of a new series called Meatless Masala Mondays. Many food bloggers share vegetarian recipes as part of Meatless Monday, an increasingly popular movement that encourages people to go meatless on Mondays to improve their health and the health of the planet. Since every day is a meatless day at Plate and Pour, every Monday I will share an Indian vegetarian recipe with you. 

Pav bhaji is Indian fast food, a kind of street food originating in Mumbai and widely popular in Gujarat. Pav means bread and bhaji is a mixture of vegetables and generally pav bhaji is enjoyed as an afternoon snack or a light dinner.  In graduate school, I absolutely loved going to Devon, the little India of Chicago, for pav bhaji and other Gujarati snacks at Sukhadia's.  If you ever find yourself amongst the crowds at the food stalls on Chowpatty Beach in Mumbai, pav bhai is a worthy challenger to kathi rolls for the most delicious midnight snack.

What I love the most about pav bhaji is that it is packed with so many different vegetables: cauliflower, green cabbage, carrots, peas, and potatoes in a tomato, onion, ginger and garlic gravy scented with masala. It's a great way to incorporate a ton of vegetables into your diet!
If you live in an area with an Indian grocery store, you can find Pav Bhaji masala, a blend of spices used in the gravy. I have also provided a pav bhaji masala recipe if you are inclined to make your own.

Not surprising, the time consuming step in this dish is chopping all of the vegetables. Once chopped, boil the vegetables until tender. Drain and set aside.

Then in a dry large heavy bottomed pot heat oil, add mustard seeds. Once the mustard seeds pop, add cumin seeds and a pinch of asofetida. Add onions, sauteing until transparent, and then add garlic, ginger, and green chile, sauteing for a minute.

Add chopped tomatoes and cook until a gravy forms. Add spices and cook until fragrant. Stir in boiled vegetables. Taste and add salt and lemon juice as needed. Sometimes the vegetables are mashed to create a smooth consistency. Personally I prefer to leave each vegetable in tact, but you may mash it gently at this point if you wish. Traditionally the bhaji is finished with butter, but it can be skipped without much consequence.

Toast bread (I used a whole grain loaf) or hamburger buns and slather with butter. If you wish to skimp on the butter in this dish, skip the butter in the bhaji but please, please generously butter the toasted bread. It is absolutely worth the extra fat. Top the buttered toasted bread with bhaji and garnish with finely chopped red onion.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Scallion Pancakes with soy ginger dipping sauce


I really meant to write this post when I got several bunches of scallions in my CSA box. Many many months ago. Then I waited so long that it just seemed worth waiting a little longer to write about scallion pancakes in time for Chinese New Year, which starts on January 23 this year. So now, after all this time, I am finally sharing my experiments making scallion pancakes with you!

I have always wanted to make scallion pancakes and after talking to a coworker at length about hot water dough, I felt as ready as ever to take on the challenge.

If you are like me and have never worked with a hot water dough before, I urge you to read this highly informative Serious Eats post.

As nerdy as it sounds, after reading the Serious Eats post, I couldn't wait to try experimenting with the number of folds and amount of scallions in my scallion pancakes. I tried three techniques of which the second yielded the best results.

Technique 1, the basic approach, with 1 iteration: Start with hot water dough rolled into a pancake shape. Brush with sesame oil. Sprinkle with scallions. Roll up like a cigar, make a tight rose spiral, flatten and re-roll out into a pancake. Pan fry. Drain and sprinkle with salt.

But like the Serious Eats post, I wanted more layers and more scallions.

Technique 2 with 2 iterations:  Start with hot water dough rolled into a pancake shape. Brush with sesame oil. Roll up like a cigar, make a tight rose spiral, flatten and re-roll out into a pancake. Brush with sesame oil. Sprinkle with scallions. Roll up like a cigar, make a rose spiral, flatten and re-roll out into a pancake. Pan fry. Drain and sprinkle with salt.

Technique 3 with 3 iterations:  Start with hot water dough rolled into a pancake shape. Brush with sesame oil. Roll up like a cigar, make a tight rose spiral, flatten and re-roll into a pancake. Brush with sesame oil. Roll up like a cigar, make a rose spiral, flatten and re-roll out into a pancake. Brush with sesame oil. Sprinkle with scallions. Roll up like a cigar, make a rose spiral, flatten and re-roll out into a pancake. Pan fry. Drain and sprinkle with salt.

Below is how each attempt turned out. Technique 3 with 3 iterations resulted in scallions breaking through the dough and a pretty sticky mess.

Technique 2 with 2 iterations was a perfect combination of flaky layers and scallion dispersion.

Technique 1, the basic approach, with 1 iteration turned out a bit too dough-y relative to scallion-y.


All in all, it was fun to work with hot water dough and experiment with layers. It felt a bit like a Goldilocks moment, with the moderate approach coming out "just right."

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Braised Winter Greens Tacos with Queso Fresco and Tomato Chipotle Salsa


After the gastronomic sins of December, we are on the search for healthy dinner options and I suspect many of you are also looking to eat healthier this year. Given hectic schedules and unpredictable work hours, it can be challenging to find healthy dinner options that are quick, easy to make, and use accessible ingredients.

These tacos are perfect for an easy, nutrient-rich weeknight dinner. Simply braise dark greens with onions, garlic and some crushed red pepper.  I used what I had on hand - a mix of spinach, beet greens (hence the pink onions in the photograph), and turnip greens- but any combination of nutrient-rich, dark greens would work well. If you are using heartier, more mature greens, simply blanch them before sauteing so that they will cook faster.

What elevates these tacos to another level is the tomato chipotle salsa. The tomato chipotle salsa is super easy to make, and even more so if you already have the chipotles around. I generally buy a can of chipotles en adobo sauce, use two chiles and keep the rest in the freezer for use in a pinch. Just blend two chipotle chiles with a little adobo sauce, an 8 oz can of tomato sauce, and 2 cloves of garlic.

Previously I made a roasted tomatillo chipotle salsa which was wonderfully tangy, smokey, and spicy. This tomato chipotle salsa isn't roasted and is much quicker to make while still having the tangy flavor of the tomato sauce and the smokey spiciness from the chipotles en adobo sauce.

Heat tortillas on a hot griddle pan or wrap in a paper towel and microwave for 30 seconds. Spoon in sauteed greens, tomato chipotle salsa, and top with crumbled queso fresco or feta. Delicious!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Butternut squash risotto with winter greens


My CSA box has taught me that summer brings heaps of corn and tomatoes and winter brings armloads of potatoes and winter squash. Descriptions like butternut squash ravioli with crisp fried sage in a brown butter sauce and butternut squash soup spiced with nutmeg appear on menus across town. Just one month into the season, I find myself tiring of the same preparations when we dine out.

In the Plate and Pour kitchen, there is no shortage of variety of winter squash, like delicata, butternut, kabocha, red kuri, spaghetti squash, and acorn. In my search for "novel" preparations of winter squash, the star has been my butternut squash galette with caramelized onions, goat cheese and sage. With my next delivery of butternut squash, I wanted to incorporate its luxoruius, creamy texture into a risotto.

I never thought to add greens to risotto, but I love adding all sorts of greens to pasta, like this orecchiette with broccoli rabe or this swiss chard ragu with penne or spaghetti with spinach and cannellini beans, so it seems natural that greens would taste just as wonderful in a risotto.  Butternut squash adds a wonderful nutty, sweetness to the creamy, rich risotto and an incredible vibrant color. And the collard greens bring a lovely earthiness and chewy texture to the risotto.

Butternut squash, like other winter squash, is full of vitamin A, which has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, vitamin C, potassium, fiber, manganese, folate, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B1, copper, vitamin B6, and niacin. Needless to say it is packed with nutrients!

Roasting butternut squash lightly caramelizes it, making it even sweeter. I stirred in a third of the roasted butternut squash into the creamy risotto at the start of the cooking process, so that it falls apart and adds beautiful color and a luxurious texture, and then I add the rest of the butternut squash at the finish to enhance the flavor. As mentioned here collard greens are also highly rich in nutrients. I blanched the collard greens first and added them in the beginning of the cooking process so the greens become tender. The rich risotto is finished with fresh sage and parmesan.

A note about cooking with Dry White Wine vs. Dry Vermouth
Most recipes for risotto involve adding dry white wine to the rice while cooking. I like to use dry vermouth instead of dry white wine in risotto, mostly because I don't drink (or buy) white wine nearly as often as I drink red wine, so I would much rather use vermouth than open a bottle of white for a small amount! But does it really have the same effect?

Dry vermouth adds a bright, herbaceous flavor to the risotto and dry white adds a bright, clean flavor. It's not surprising because dry vermouth starts out as a dry white wine, and then it is flavored with botanicals to develop herbacious characteristics and fortified with alcohol. With that in mind, I recommend dry vermouth as a good substitute for dry white wine when the recipe calls for 1/2 cup or less and you are using a stock to balance the flavors. However, you probably want to avoid substituting in vermouth for white wine in a dessert dish!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Root vegetable gratin (parsnip, celery root, rutabaga, turnip and yukon gold potatoes)


Compared to vibrant spring and summer produce, winter vegetables are often overlooked and unloved by the food community. The season's bounty of produce like leeks, fennel, root vegetables, carrots, and dark greens may not stir up the same sort of gushing emotion as colorful heirloom tomatoes, asparagus, and elusive fava beans, but when prepared well, winter produce can be surprisingly enticing. Winter wouldn't be winter without soul-satisfying gratins, delicious and hearty soups, and comforting braised winter greens with nurturing root vegetables. 

Braised, roasted, stewed or pureed, root vegetables can truly stand out in the winter months without being too fussy or complex. Root vegetables like turnips, rutabaga, and celery root contain nutrients like fiber, magnesium, potassium, thiamin, vitamin B6, and vitamin C. In addition, turnips are high in calcium and rutabagas are packed with vitamin A. Yukon gold potatoes are high in fiber, potassium, and vitamin C.

I had not worked with celery root before making this dish and found it rather daunting. Celery root may sound unappealing if you don't like celery, but don't be so quick to judge, celery root can be full of wonderful spicy and refreshing flavor. Celery root is about the size of a grapefruit with a few tough, dark green stalks growing on top and roots growing on the bottom. Choose the celery root that is the heaviest for its size as it is more likely to be dense and tender. Slice off the top and bottom of the root and peel the outside with a good vegetable peeler. If not using immediately, submerge the celery root into cold water with lemon or vinegar to prevent from discoloring as you would do with artichoke. 

Rutabagas are part of the Brassica napus family and originated as a cross between cabbage and turnip. These yellow and purple delights are used much like turnips and should be peeled. When roasted with other root vegetables, such as celery root and parsnips, sweet, young turnips or Brassica rapus add balance. The smaller, tender skinned turnips do not need to be peeled and only require a thorough scrubbing (and their greens are wonderful sauteed). Larger, thicker-skinned turnips need to be peeled.

Parsnips look like pale, wide carrots and can be pureed, roasted, or sauteed to a crisp. Lightly peel the outside before using. They are often pureed and combined with potatoes and other root vegetables. Parsnips are high in fiber, potassium, and vitamin C.

A root vegetable gratin is a great way to become better acquainted with the intriguing fall and winter root vegetables. In this rich and creamy root vegetable gratin I used yukon gold potatoes and baby white turnips from the CSA box and rutabaga, parsnip, and celery root from the farmer's market. If you layer the vegetables separately, you can taste the remarkable flavors of each of the root vegetables individually. The gratin comes together with nutty parmesan, cream, garlic, fresh thyme, fennel fronds (or parsley) and a touch of nutmeg. This is hands down the best preparation of root vegetables that I have ever tasted!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012



Growing up, whenever we had guests, my mother would offer a plate of hot kachori or samosas along with a cup of masala chai, instead of the cookies or cheese and crackers my American friends' mothers would offer when I was a guest in their home. Similar to samosas, kachori are small fried balls filled with either a spicy pea mixture or a spiced lentil mixture. In our house we would make both, but the pea filled kachori was my all time favorite.

Like most kids, I wasn't crazy about peas, but there was something magical about the way my mother transformed the peas into a wonderful mixture infused with more spices than I could name. As a child I would always ask my mother to make "purses", my word for kachori,and pani puri on my birthday.

She would tell me repeatedly that I should pay attention to how she makes the dough as it wasn't something you could read in a book. Sometimes I would stand next to her and help make the purses and dream about the day I would make kachori for my own family.

Years later, when I would visit home during college and later graduate school, my mother would ask me what I wanted to eat and kachori always made it to the top of the list. Even after all those years, I would sit at the breakfast bar and watch her painstakingly prepare each kachori with a smile on her face.

It is with great love and appreciation that I share my mother's kachori recipe with you all on this particular day. Enjoy!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Vegetarian Camping in Big Sur


Oh how I love Northern California. I feel so lucky to live here, surrounded by inherently spectacular places like Big Sur, Carmel by-the-sea, Santa Cruz, Half Moon Bay, Point Reyes, Yosemite, Tahoe and, of course, Napa and Sonoma.

We recently had the most amazing camping trip to Big Sur. The winding, cliff-hugging drive down Highway 1 itself generated spectacular views from the car window each more breathtaking than the last.

The splendid coast line at Big Sur is rocky and jagged, a sharp contrast to the sandy, easily accessible beaches of Southern California.

We set up camp just across the ocean at the Southern end of Big Sur and then hiked down to the rocky beach protected by bluffs. What a beautiful scene we encountered- massive waves crashing down on huge rocks set against a glittering ocean in the background.

We arrived back at the camp before sunset to start preparing dinner. Knowing me, you might have already guessed that we didn't eat hot dogs and canned food on this camping trip. That's right, we took gourmet cooking outdoors! (All recipes are after the jump).

The first night we made nachos with black beans, fresh jalapenos, tomatoes, and cilantro in a cast iron skillet and then grilled a bunch of delicious veggies for me (and a leg of lamb for the rest) throughout the night. The night sky shined brilliantly with an endless number of stars and the only sound we could hear was that of the waves crashing.

As we gathered around the campfire, a flood of memories from camping as a Girl Scout came back to me- mostly involving food! Aside from the usual favorites of roasting marshmallows and making s'mores, one of my absolute favorites as a Girl Scout was wrapping a Pillsbury crescent roll on a whittled green stick and roasting it to a crisp in the fire. (You really have to get close to the fire, otherwise the inside remains raw)

The next morning we were up super early and warmed ourselves around the fire, sipping on our own version of mochas- "cowboy" coffee mixed with hot chocolate topped with marshmallows and a dash of cinnamon- and feasting on Mexican scrambled eggs which we then wrapped up in tortillas.

To burn off the calories (mostly so we could eat more later), we hiked to Jade cove and then Limekiln state park, with beautiful Redwood groves and rocky lush streams. We spent the afternoon playing bocce on the rocky beach. Note to self, bocce balls definitely crack (sometimes in half) when hitting a big rock. 

That evening around the campfire we sipped on wine and wonderfully peaty Ardbeg Uigeadail as dinner was cooking. And what a glorious feast it was: spinach and mushroom veggie lasagna with three cheeses- ricotta, mozzarella and parmesan, fire roasted root vegetables (potato, turnip, celery root and parsnip with onion, garlic, thyme and parmesan), fire roasted butternut squash with sage and onion, and grilled corn on the cob. Not too shabby!

The next morning for breakfast we filled Pillsbury crescent rolls with mushrooms, garlic and fresh thyme and roasted them over the fire in foil packets and made biscuits and gravy. Yes, while camping.

After our feast, we hiked over to Julia Pfeiffer Burns Beach and caught stunning views of the ocean and waterfall. As we made our way north, we stopped at Nepenthe and took in the gorgeous ocean views on the sun-soaked roof deck. I sipped a beautiful glass of pinot noir, Lucia Gary's vineyard from nearby Santa Lucia Highland. It was the perfect finish to an amazing trip! Thanks N & N!

All recipes are after the jump.
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