Chana Masala with Bhaturas: Vegetarian Indian Goodness

My friend Diana is in town for a couple of days, and I promised her a vegetarian feast.  There’s nothing she loves more than Indian food, so I broke out my Madhur Jaffrey cookbook and made this chana masala for her and our friends Peter and Cat.  It turned out really well, and was less difficult than I expected.  It was spicy without being overpowering, and the lemon really gives it a fresh, tangy taste. 

(Incidentally, I realized about five minutes before my guests arrived that we were out of lemons– Joe used them all making lemon curd!  We only have small corner markets in my neighborhood, none of which carry produce, and I don’t have a car.  Fortunately, the neighborly folks at Ida Mae’s Bruncherie, reviewed here, spotted me a lemon!)

Chana masala, for those who haven’t tasted it, is a vegetarian dish of chickpeas simmered with onions, garlic, ginger, tomato puree and spices.  It’s topped with lemon juice, tomatoes and chopped onion and served with fried bread– in this case, bhaturas.  My friend LeftyProf gave me a real-deal recipe, from his best friend’s mom in Delhi, but when I raced home from work and started cooking, it emerged that we didn’t actually have all of the ingredients!  So I’m going to try that this weekend, and last night I made Madhur Jaffrey’s bhaturas instead.  Props to Peter for doing an excellent job deep frying these– I’m excited to have successfully produced another new (to me) Indian bread!  Read on for the recipes.

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Lamb Chops in Yogurt with Whole Spices; Potato Patties (aloo-ki-tikiya): Take 2

Back in June, I found myself with four lamb chops and some potatoes, and decided to make these two Jaffrey recipes.  It turned out well, so when we bought lamb chops again (Trader Joe’s, people, seriously!) I decided to revisit the recipe. 

I won’t go into great detail about the technique, since I covered that pretty well in the last post.  I did, however, learn a few things this time.

The lamb recipe was, as before, easy but time-consuming.  You just brown your lamb chops, fry your spices for a minute, pour in a yogurt/water mixture and let the whole thing simmer for an hour.  Once again, my yogurt curdled.  The recipe has you pouring yogurt water into hot oil, so even vigorous whisking doesn’t really solve the problem.  The good news, however, is that this isn’t a yogurt sauce meant to be served with the lamb chops; it’s more of a straight-up simmer sauce.  It’s mostly there to soak into the lamb chops, keep them moist and infuse them with the flavor of the spices– which it does admirably, whether or not the yogurt curdles, so I’m not going to beat myself up about it.  (Although reader tips are more than welcome!)  Also, one change I did make was to used smoked peppercorns.  The flavor difference was subtle, but I think it added something to the meat overall.  Man, those things are potent.

The potato patties definitely turned out better this time around.  It’s easy in theory but difficult to do well; you form cooled mashed potatoes into a ball, flatten it, add a center of fried dal/onion/fenugreek (methi) mixture, form it into a patty, and fry it slowly till it get a nice red-brown crust.  Last time, I didn’t have time to let the potatoes thoroughly cool before making the patties.  The result was that they didn’t hold together well and kept trying to break apart in the pan.

This time, Joe made the potatoes before I got home from work, so they sat for about two hours in a covered bowl.  This helped, but when I went to form the patties they were still warm and sticky, and kept breaking apart in my hands.  I was really worried about their ability to hold together. 

As it turned out, they behaved just fine.  A crack or two formed when I flipped the patties, but they held together and were delicious.  Next time, I’d like to make the potatoes a day in advance and keep them in the fridge, and see if that helps.  Also, I added just a bit of chopped green chilli to the dal mixture, which gave the patties a nice little kick.

Last time, we had two patties left over, and we kept them in the fridge and made them the next day.  They held together well and were an easy side dish.  We have two left over this time as well, so I’m looking forward to having them tonight or tomorrow.

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Beef Korma with Pooris

Between traveling and convalescing, I haven’t had the time or energy to cook a Madhur Jaffrey recipe in a while.  I’ve been looking forward to getting back to it.  I finally managed to do a beef korma last night, although my cooking skills were rusty– it took a while to get back into my comfort zone!  I’m going to try to do fewer heavy meat dishes like this… but I’m only human, and korma is good.

I thawed stew meat with the intention of making beef roganjosh again, but when I got home from work I realized I was missing a few key ingredients, and of course the store was already closed.  Joe had prepped ingredients already, so I decided to do beef korma, which uses similar ingredients.  It worked, mostly.  I also decided to leave the little metal spoons in their drawer.  I haven’t done this precise dish before, but I have done it with chicken, so I have some familiarity with the process.

The recipe has you brown some onions for garnish, then remove them and brown the meat in the onion-flavored oil, then make the sauce and put the meat back into it to simmer.  You’re supposed to chop the onion into half rings for browning, but Joe had prepped for roganjosh so the onions were very finely chopped.  I decided to go ahead and brown them, which worked beautifully until it came time to take them out of the oil.  I had a really hard time catching them all and fishing them out before they could burn– important, because you don’t want burnt onions all through your meat.  I ended up pouring a bit of hot oil on my hand and then dropping an entire bowl into the pan!  Yeah.  Off my game, people, seriously.  Don’t ask me to operate any heavy machinery.

After I got the sauce ready to go, I added the meat back into the pan to simmer.  At this point, Jaffrey says to simmer it for half an hour, add the almond-pecan paste, and then give it another 25-30 minutes.  But I’d halved the recipe; I was using beef rather than lamb; and I was hungry and ready to watch Eureka, so I decided to play the simmering time by ear.  I ended up simmering for 20 minutes, adding the nut paste, and giving it another 10.  The beef ended up a little tough, though, so I guess I jumped the gun a bit.  The sauce, however, turned out really delicious.

Joe made poori dough while I was at work, so after I got things simmering, he started heating the oil and I started kneading the dough.  We learned last time we made pooris that it’s best not to roll them out too thin– about four inches, five at most, does the trick.  This time, we learned that speed is key during frying.  If you aren’t quick enough at turning the pooris once they puff, they’ll overcook and become crispy.  Joe mastered the technique about three pooris in, and this was probably the best batch we’ve made since the first time.  I’m totally amazed at how well certain dishes are complemented by specific breads.  Eating pooris with a beef dish like this has an effect similar to eating a good piece of cheese with just the right wine– the flavors of both are enhanced more than you’d ever suspect. 


-If you’re going to use stew meat, the simmering time matters.  Hmm, I know it works for dal but I’m not sure about beef… would this be a job for our friend Mr. Pressure Cooker?  Or would he do strange things to the meat?  I’m totally inexperienced with pressure cookers.  Readers?

-Speed matters when frying pooris.  Don’t hesitate to flip them the second they puff.

-Try not to spill hot oil on yourself.  Also, avoid dropping things into hot oil.

-Do not grab at things randomly and accidentally cause balls of dough to scatter everywhere, or your wife will become cranky.  Right, Joe? 🙂

-Pay attention to food/bread pairings.  It’s been my experience, in my limited explorations of Indian cuisine, that people have strong opinions and traditions about which breads go with which dishes.  Those pairings exist for a reason, and serving the correct bread with a dish really does make a difference to the flavors of both.

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Kheema, moong dal and chapatis

Back to the book! I made three recipes from the Jaffrey cookbook for dinner last night: kheema, a spiced ground beef dish; moong dal, a classic North Indian lentil recipe; and chapatis, a simple bread which I’ve done a few times before. Jaffrey recommends this combination, and I can see why– the flavors mingled really well together. Also, they’re both simple and good for leftovers, so we’re pretty much set for next week’s lunches now.

The dal has to simmer for an hour and a half, the kheema has to simmer for an hour, and the chapati dough has to rise for at least 30 minutes, so I made the dishes in that order.

The dal recipe is actually incredibly easy. I’ve made some fairly complicated dals in my time. When I first went on a gluten-free diet after being misdiagnosed with celiac disease, I was totally broke and didn’t know what was safe to eat, and pretty much survived the first month on dal and rice. It’s nutritionally fantastic and very versatile, but it can be an intricate pain to make. Not so much this dal. Anyone with a pot, a pan and an hour and a half can pretty much do this one with their eyes closed.

Get yourself some moong dal. The lentils should be split open, dark green on the outside and light yellow on the inside. Put 10 oz. in a pot with two pints of water, and boil. Clean the scum off the top with a strainer. Throw in a few cloves of garlic, some ginger (no need to chop), turmeric, a pinch of cayenne pepper, and chopped cilantro or parsley if you have it (I didn’t). Turn down the heat, cover but leave a little vent open, and leave it for an hour and a half, stirring every ten minutes or so. Try to make sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. I was sure, initially, that this would run out of moisture, but it didn’t. About ten minutes before it’s done, throw in one lemon’s worth of juice and some salt. Then, right before service, melt ghee in a pan– about 3 tbsp– and put in a pinch of asafetida and an equal amount of whole cumin seeds. When the asafetida starts to snap-crackle-pop, pour the whole thing into the dal. Sprinkle with a handful of fried onions and serve immediately, with a lemon wedge on the side.

While that’s simmering: kheema. I halved the recipe, because two pounds of ground beef is too much for two people. This has both warm spices and a bit of heat. First, you need to fry some onion half-rings, because both this recipe and the dal are finished with them. Just put them in hot oil and keep stirring until they get nice and brown. You don’t want them to burn. Make sure you start taking them out of the pan just before they are done, because these little suckers are slippery and you don’t want them burning while you’re still struggling to get them out of the pan.

Keep the oil from the onions. Throw in two bay leaves, a cinnamon stick and six cloves. Once the leaves change color, throw in a finely chopped onion, three cloves chopped garlic and a spoonful of chopped ginger (I admit it, I used the emergency ginger jar). Keep those going until things are just barely starting to brown, then add your classic North Indian spice mix– ground cumin, coriander seeds and turmeric. Mix and fry. Then add a tablespoon of plain yogurt and stir that in very quickly. Give that a minute, then put in one chopped tomato. Fresh would be great, but I was out so I used canned chopped tomato, which actually works beautifully and even gives a slightly more consistent texture. Next time I use fresh, I think I’ll run it through the food processor!

Give that a few minutes, then add the meat, chop it all up with your flipper, mix well with the sauce and let it start to brown. Then add your warm spices: mace, nutmeg, cayenne and salt, plus a few ounces of water. Bring to a boil, cover, lower heat, and simmer for an hour, stirring every ten minutes or so. If you are not making chapatis, what you can do at this point is go zone out in front of Law & Order, and get up at every commercial break to go and stir your pots. (I know, it’s an awful show, but I’m addicted. You never know what character actor will show up– Aasif Mandvi was on last night! Aasif– if you’re reading– call me!) About halfway through the simmering, put the fried onions in (reserving some to top the dal) and stir. That’s it.

Now for the chapatis. I was worried about having enough time, so I had Joe do most of the kheema prep while I kneaded chapati dough. I needn’t have worried– I had time to spare, as it turned out. Chapatis are the easiest Indian bread I’ve tried– spelt flour and water in about equal parts, knead for 8 minutes, let rise for half an hour. Knead again, divide into 8 balls. Roll each ball into about a 5-6 inch circle, flouring all the while. To cook, put the chapatis, one at a time, on your very hot tava or cast iron pan. Once they solidify and start to get brown, grab with tongs and hold over an open flame until they puff. Brush with a bit of butter, and repeat with the next chapati. These ones came out fluffier than previous chapatis– we had some excellent puffing action this time.

All this should be served with rice, by the way. We still had some of this rice left over, so we tossed it in the microwave and it went perfectly.

So: rice, kheema, dal with a lemon wedge and fried onions, chapatis, Wild Goose IPA. Both the kheema and dal had a kick to them, more so than a lot of the food I’ve made from the Jaffrey book so far. Joe and I found our sinuses clearing by the end of the meal, but it wasn’t so hot that the flavors were disguised. We were amazed at how well the flavors complemented each other.

I wasn’t sure I’d like this dal. When I was growing up, most of the veggies we ate were of the frozen-microwaved variety or the slimy-okra variety, and I didn’t like them one bit. My stepbrothers still tease me about the time I gagged over a bowl of peas. It’s only recently, under the tutelage of a former-vegetarian husband and Indian vegetable-eating friends, that I’ve started learning to like my vegetables. (My friend Gagan’s mom’s okra blew my mind.) But I’m still a bit leery about anything green and savory. So when I was cooking these lentils, and they were very green with lots of brown liquid, and they smelled sort of pea-like, I was worried. But once I added the spiced ghee, I started to relax. And by the time it got to my plate, I was thrilled. The vegetable-ness of the lentils is balanced with the richness of the ghee, the heat from the spices, the tang of the lemon juice and the sweetness of the fried onions. The lemon juice, in particular, really made the flavors from the spices bright and vivid. There’s a lot going on in this deceptively simple dish, and I have to say that I am now looking forward to eating this particular vegetable. I hope you’re reading this, Mom!

Comments imported from Blogger: 1

Red Joe said…
This was a great dish on Saturday. I just had some for lunch today and it was AMAZING! The flavors of the spices, in particular the asafetida, really come out more than they did before. It is hot but very flavorful with a pleasant bitter after taste. A real winner. I’ll be requesting this one for a while.
July 9, 2007 12:24 PM  

Prawns, Kerala Style, and Rice with Whole Spices.

This was by far the fastest, easiest recipe I’ve made from the Jaffrey cookbook, and it was one of the most flavorful. This, my friends, is a winner.

We got a pound of small tiger shrimp at the Reading Terminal Market, along with some absolutely bursting ripe tomatoes from Livengood Farms. I can’t believe how juicy and flavorful those tomatoes were.

OK. Chop two tomatoes and put then in the blender with half a cup of dried coconut, three cloves of chopped garlic and just a bit of ginger. I ended up also putting a chopped onion in there, because I neglected to tell Joe not to grab it. Didn’t seem to have any negative effect, though!

Fry a finely chopped onion. When it starts to brown and get soft, add the paste from the blender, three tbsp of tamarind paste (my new favorite ingredient), half a cup of water, ground coriander, turmeric, cayenne pepper and salt. Mix, bring to a boil and simmer for five minutes.

Then throw your (peeled, deveined) shrimp into the liquid and bring to a boil again. Keep stirring until they’re cooked. You’re done. Simple.

As for the rice: Our foodie friend Nagesh made this for a party last week. (I hope he won’t mind my giving away his culinary secrets here.) I may have missed an ingredient or two, but it was quite simple: five cloves, five cardamom pods, and a generous pinch of black cumin into the water just before turning on the rice cooker. Lots of flavor, minimum effort.

This was delicious! The shrimp were done perfectly, and the sauce was sweet and coconut-y. I thought the bitter edge of the black cumin was a nice counterpoint to the sweetness of the sauce. It was a light meal– we probably should have made some bread as well. Next time– and believe me, there will be several next times for this dish.

Chicken in Light Sauce and Pooris

This is one of the simpler and quicker chicken recipes in the Jaffrey book, and it turned out very tasty. We used good free-range chicken from Godshall’s Poultry in the Reading Market, which has a better flavor and more natural texture than the hormone-pumped Perdue version. We used the breasts and legs for this dish.

First up: three tbsp of yogurt, one of tomato puree, and a cup of water, mixed well with a fork. I used Greek yogurt, which is absolutely terrible for you and incredibly delicious. Seriously, the texture is like ice cream. Next, ginger and garlic in the blender with a splash of water. No onions in this dish—I’ll have to remember that next time we run out of onions. The problem here was that the amount of garlic and ginger was so small that even the mini-blender was too big– everything just flew to the sides. We ended up grinding it with the mortar and pestle, which worked perfectly well.

Brown the chicken in a small amount of oil in the bottom of a stockpot. I was careful to cook it a bit more thoroughly, since last time I found myself with underdone chicken. Set aside. Throw in your spices—a cinnamon stick, two dried red chilies, cardamom pods, cloves, and two bay leaves. Fry for just a few seconds, then add the ginger-garlic paste and turmeric. Fry for a minute, then put the chicken back in. Add the yogurt mixture, a tbsp of lemon juice, salt and pepper and mix.

Jaffrey says to bring to a boil and then lower heat, cover and simmer. I still don’t really trust her on the whole boiling-yogurt business, especially when I can’t whisk it because of the big chicken pieces. I brought it almost to boiling and then simmered it for 25 minutes.

While that’s simmering, roll out your pooris. These ones contained actual wheat flour—no more gluten-free stuff, woohoo! We’ve been finding that it’s best not to make them too big and thin– slightly thicker and maybe 4 inches wide is really all you need. The density allows the poori to sink into the oil for a second before it puffs up and floats, and you get a better puff. Our puffing went well, but they came out a bit too crispy. Joe’s getting really into perfecting the pooris.

We finished the pooris just as the chicken was getting done—go us. We served the chicken in a bowl with pooris, and it was damn tasty. The chicken was dark and flavorful enough to really complement the sauce, instead of just acting as a sauce conveyance device. It was quite filling and satisfying, especially paired with a Yard’s Philadelphia Pale Ale. And since it’s doable in half an hour and doesn’t require any onion chopping, I think this might become a work-night staple dish in our household!

Chana Dal with Lamb

This is the first real dal recipe I’ve done from the Jaffrey cookbook. It’s kind of an unusual one, because it contains lamb, and also you don’t let the lentils fall apart– they stay whole and a bit al dente.

I know I say this a lot, but… this was easy but time-consuming! My Indian foodie friend Nagesh thinks that some of Jaffrey’s recipes are needlessly complicated, which is interesting. It’s certainly true that it’s hard to make a Jaffrey recipe without dirtying half the dishes and pans in your kitchen.

First, you fry four onions’ worth of onion half-rings, till they’re brown and sweet. Don’t burn them. Also, don’t hover over the pot so much that your eyes start stinging and you have to call your husband over to help you scoop out the onions because you can’t see. Not that such a thing would ever happen to me. Set aside.

Next, put your lamb chunks (we got some nice local lamb stew meat from the Fair Food Farmstand) into the hot onion oil and brown them on high heat. Set aside.

Meanwhile, you will have blended your Indian mirepoix (onions, ginger, garlic) into a fine paste in the mini-food processor. Dump this into the oil and fry for close to ten minutes, until it starts to cook off a bit. Then add your turmeric, coriander and cumin. Give it a minute, then stir in a tablespoon of tomato puree (I used paste). Next, the warm spices: mace, nutmeg, cinnamon and ground cloves. I hadn’t used mace before– it has a strong flavor and goes well in the warm-spice mix. Give that about five minutes, then add 4 oz chana dal, the lamb, salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, and a cup of water. Stir well, bring to a boil, and simmer for an hour, pausing your movie every ten minutes to stir.

Before service, stir in a few tablespoons of lemon juice. I served this with rice and topped it with the fried onions and chopped coriander, which made for a nice presentation.

This was delicious! It had a nice kick– definitely the spiciest recipe I’ve made yet, which isn’t saying much, but still. Tasty. The lamb was very tender, and the dal had this al dente not-quite-crunch to them that was very pleasant. The sweetness of the onions was a nice counterpoint to the heat and the richness of the lamb.

I’m packing some of this for my trip this weekend, and I have a feeling it’s going to get very happy in the fridge!

-Next time, I think I can drain off some of the oil before putting in the mirepoix. It was a little oily.
-Good lamb really makes a difference. We were surprised at how meat-heavy this dish was- we actually used only half the amount of meat called for in the recipe, because that’s what we had on hand, and it was still very meat-centric.
-Be careful when frying onions! I need some goggles or something. Except that if I actually wore goggles around onions, Joe would never, ever let me live it down!