Most yogurt soups I’ve seen have been summer concoctions, raw and chilled. But I really liked this yogurt-spinach soup, spiced with green chile and ginger, thickened with chickpea flour and served hot. It was bright, tart, fresh, and very warming. We found it in Meena Pathak’s book Flavors of India, where she explains that this is what her mother made for her to eat every day after school in the winter, and it really is comfort food, especially if you have fried potatoes or warm flatbreads (or even better, samosas) to dip in it. When we made it, we served it as a side dish with an aromatic chicken-tomato curry and a side of spiced okra, and it made a beautifully balanced meal. It’s a great way of getting some extra greens on the table, and very quick to make.
This was a pretty spicy soup, mostly because I like to microplane hot chiles to get a smooth texture – but that means all the seeds and membranes go in. If you want it milder, you could deseed the chile and mince it finely, but I don’t think I would leave it out altogether.
Yogurt Spinach Soup
Adapted from Flavors of India: Authentic Indian Recipes by Meena Pathak. Serves two as a starter or side dish.
- 1 heaping Tablespoon chickpea flour
- 2 Tbsp water
- 3 oz fresh spinach, washed and shredded
- 1/2 cup plain yogurt
- 1/2 piece fresh ginger, minced or microplaned
- 1 hot green chile, minced or microplaned
- pinch of sugar
- pinch of salt
- 1 cup water
- 1 Tbsp cilantro, chopped
Combine the chickpea flour and the 2 Tbsp water in a small bowl and set aside.
In a saucepan, combine the yogurt, ginger, chiles, sugar, salt, and 1 cup water. Stir in the chickpea flour mixture and place the pan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, whisking frequently, until the liquid thickens slightly. Add the spinach, stir until wilted, then serve. Garnish each bowl with fresh cilantro.
I wasn’t going to post on this dinner, as it’s really unpreposessing-looking (brown meat, brownish-yellow cabbage, brown pickle – all we needed was a reddish-brown dal to make the plate truly unappetizing). And I’ve already talked about the pork stewed with ginger, chiles and rai masala (a regular dish in our meal rotation). But I don’t believe I’ve told you about this cabbage dish, which is easy to make and amazingly good, especially with a side of yogurt and a good Indian pickle. Despite its looks, it’s worth trying – sweet and a little spicy, with a lingering fennel note and just a hint of bitterness from the fenugreek. I generally make it a little differently each time, depending on my mood and what we’re serving it with. This is the version I made last night.
Buttery Cabbage with Fennel and Green Chile
Loosely adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s Spice Kitchen
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 onion, sliced
- 1 small green cabbage, cored and finely sliced
- 1/2 tsp cumin seed
- 1/4 tsp mustard seed
- 1/2 tsp fennel seed
- 5 fenugreek seeds
- a clove or two of garlic, chopped
- 1 green chile (we use serranos), chopped
- 1 nugget fresh ginger, chopped
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- kosher salt
- 1 Tbsp butter
- pinch garam masala
- juice of half a lemon
Heat the oil in a large skillet (one that has a well-fitting lid) and add the cumin, mustard, fennel and fenugreek seeds. When they have begun to toast, add the onion and saute until it softens. Add the garlic, ginger, turmeric and chile and cook for a minute or two, then dump in all the shredded cabbage (this is why you needed a large skillet). Saute until the cabbage wilts and combines with the onion and spices, then add some salt and the butter. Stir it all up as the butter melts, then put in a splash of water, cover the pan and lower the heat. Let it simmer 15-30 minutes, checking occasionally to make sure it hasn’t boiled dry. Then take off the lid and slowly saute again, stirring frequently, so that the liquid boils off and the onion and cabbage caramelize a bit – another 15-30 minutes. Sprinkle in the garam masala and lemon juice, taste for salt, and serve.
This was an extra-nice sort of chicken curry dinner. We (loosely) followed a fairly involved recipe out of the Vij’s cookbook for tamarind-marinated chicken in a rich curry sauce, and it was well worth the trouble.
It’s a beautiful book, but the recipes suffer a bit from what I think of as restaurant-itis, where every part of every dish is complicated. The way I prefer to cook at home usually involves one involved recipe, like a sauce or fancy side dish, with plain vegetables or a piece of pan-seared meat or fish. But sometimes it’s fun to go a bit further and make something as written. In this case both the chicken and the sauce were good (and good together), and I could definitely see making either again on their own.
For a brief, interesting period, a Punjabi grocery store set up behind the outlet mall in the town just north of us. It was hard to find and only occasionally open, but they carried all sorts of things that we normally need to go to Seattle, or at least Everett, to find. It closed, of course – but we had stocked up on several ingredients first, including a bag of chickpea flour – which I inexplicably did nothing with for an embarrassingly long time.
Finally I decided it was stupid to have chickpea flour and not use it, so over the holidays we made pakoras to go with cocktails. Pakora is like Indian tempura: vegetables dipped in a batter of chickpea flour and spices, then deep fried – a bit of a production, but not at all difficult. I used a batter recipe from Madhur Jaffrey’s first cookbook, but decided to use mushrooms after looking at my parents’ copy of Alford and Duguid’s Mangoes & Curry Leaves.
Not the prettiest dish in the world, but extremely good. And easy!
The sauce, a mixture of tomato, cream, green chile, cilantro and spices, is straight from a Madhur Jaffrey recipe, but she wants you to serve it with prawns. We made it that way for a while, then hit on the idea of stirring in lightly cooked peas instead of shrimp. We’ve done it this way ever since.
This is a favorite meal of ours for those nights when we don’t have a lot of time, we hardly have any fresh vegetables in the house, and we want something with a lot of flavor and a definite comfort factor. Kheema is like the Indian equivalent of chile con carne, or sloppy Joe mix, or spaghetti sauce. There are many different versions – probably as many as there are cooks who make it – and it can be tweaked to accommodate whatever you have in your pantry, as long as you have 1. ground meat 2. chile peppers (fresh or dried) 3. canned tomato and 4. spices. Onions and garlic are helpful, but not absolutely required.
My favorite kheema recipe for when we have no fresh chiles in the house is from Madhur Jaffrey’s first book, An Invitation to Indian Cooking. It’s warm with onion and whole sweet spices as well as dried red chiles, and tastes wonderful. But our current favorite kheema is from the Parsi cookbook My Bombay Kitchen. It uses whole slit green chiles as well as cayenne pepper, so it has a complex spiciness, and it can be made as thick or soupy as you like, depending on how you’re serving it. We usually ladle it over white rice, but the last time we made it I griddled some fresh chapati and we spooned the kheema into the breads with yogurt and chutney. It could also be eaten straight out of a bowl, maybe with tortilla chips. Why not? Not to mention the possibilities of using it for stuffing samosas, or topping pizza.
And for breakfast, I can recommend making a sort of huevos rancheros with leftover kheema and runny fried eggs over sourdough toast or chapati or tortillas. Oh, yeah.
A note about the recipe: there are a few odd ingredients here, but please don’t be scared off by them. We keep curry leaves in our freezer, but the kheema will be perfectly fine without them. And don’t worry about the dhana jiru or the sambar masala – we happen to have both of those, because Jon loves to make spice blends at home, but you can either leave them out, or do what I do, which is to look up the blend, see what the major flavors are, and just add a few of the more important-sounding ones. I’ve indicated a few possible options in the recipe.
Frozen vegetables are a great resource for when you haven’t made it to the grocery store lately. We go through rather a lot of storebought frozen spinach, okra and peas, and I freeze my own berries, rhubarb, tomatillos and roasted peppers. Frozen corn, though, I have issues with. Whether I buy it or shuck and freeze it myself, I just never get around to using it. This may explain the half-full bag of corn that’s been sitting in our freezer for the past three years. Oops.
Thankfully, it is now gone, thanks to Monica Bhide. We had a vindaloo for dinner last night – a great pantry dinner for us, as we always have pork, chiles and vinegar on hand – and were trying to come up with a vegetable side that wouldn’t involve shopping. Jon opened up Monica’s excellent book Modern Spice and found a pea curry that we were able to adapt to the ingredients on hand, and it just happened to use frozen corn as well as peas. Finally, I could use up that ancient bag! It had more than a little freezer burn and a ton of ice in it, but the prospect of actually making use of it was too compelling.
Stuffing cheese into a chicken thigh doesn’t necessarily sound like a wise idea, but when the cheese in question is panir, a dry non-melting Indian cheese, all is well. We found this dish in a recently acquired cookbook, Modern Spice (on clearance at Village Books!), which is full of wonderful recipes that fuse Indian flavors with the American pantry. In this case bone-in chicken parts are stuffed with Indian herbs and spices mixed with Indian cheese, but baked in the oven instead of being simmered in liquid on the stovetop, as with so much Indian cookery. The chicken gets crispy on top, and the stuffing takes on the flavor of the bird as well as that lovely cheesy toastiness and a kick of chile heat.
Panir is crucial to this recipe, since no other cheese behaves quite like it (maybe halloumi?), but if you can’t find panir you could still make all the other ingredients into a rub for roasted chicken parts. What’s not to like about butter, chiles, ginger, garlic and cilantro?
A fusiony sort of dish like this didn’t seem to need a traditional Indian accompaniment, so we recreated a salad we invented on our Paris vacation, caramelizing finely diced fennel in a skillet and stirring in chopped ripe tomatoes. Pure essence of summer, it played beautifully off the spicy cheese and chicken. With a bright Sangiovese rosé, this was a very successful summer-to-autumn transitional dinner.
It’s been a fragrant week around here.
First, I was walking home for lunch, and was waylaid by a neighbor who was engaged in cutting down several large white lilac bushes that had been attempting to take down some powerlines behind her house. The lilacs were in full bloom, and she insisted on cutting me a large bouquet to take home before they wilted on the downed shrub. I put them on the kitchen table, and every time the evening sun hits them the room fills with the scent of lilac.
Then, of course, the daphne odora is in bloom by the front porch steps. It’s old for a daphne, and beginning to list alarmingly to starboard (I may have to attempt some pruning this year), but when it blooms the smell is an astonishing sugary explosion, drowning out all other scents within a fifteen foot radius.
And finally, we made pork vindaloo. The house smelled wonderful for days.
Surely we will run out of new shrimp curry recipes any time now. I mean, the shrimp section in our favorite curry cookbook isn’t that big. However, in the meantime, we’ve been keeping a bag of prawns in the freezer – few things make a better quick weeknight dinner – so we’re always up for a new recipe to try.
This curry uses yet another of those ingredients that you pick up in a store, thinking you’ve been seeing references to it everywhere – then once you bring it home you can’t find a single mention of it. This is what happened to us with sumac, although we’re beginning to have a bit more luck on that front. In this case it was fenugreek leaves – we bought a box at a short-lived Indian grocery that ill-advisedly opened in the back of an outbuilding in Burlington, behind the Outlet Mall. Of course, they turned out to be chopped and dried, when our recipes call for fresh or frozen. Sigh. Continue reading